"Some men change their party for the sake of their principles; others their principles for the sake of their party."
- Winston Churchill
A report by English e-paper of Marathi daily Lokmat has generated a buzz around alleged infighting in the ruling BJP. As per the exclusive report published by the newspaper on April 3, there are major differences in the BJP leadership as well. The report stated that this information was disclosed by a senior cabinet minister of Modi government in a long informal conversation with the Lokmat Times. Though the newspaper has not revealed the name of minister in question.
The report adds that the minister, during a discussion in the cabinet on the various schemes, was presenting his point on an issue. However, the Prime Minister cut him short and said something which got the minister angry. The minister then threatened PM Modi by saying: "If you have the guts, then try to remove me from the council of ministers."
The report also mentions that the minister claimed he has the power to bring down the Modi government by taking away 252 MPs with him. However, he is bound by the ideology and thus, not taking any such steps.
The Minister also alleged that Modi is happy to see him being praised and while in his chamber, he counts who has clapped, and how many times.
According to the cabinet minister, Rajnath Singh's son, Pankaj Singh- a Uttar Pradesh MLA, was prevented by Prime Minister Narendra Modi from becoming a minister in Yogi Adityanath cabinet.
According to the report, Rajnath Singh used to argue with PM Modi but now has surrendered to the PM. The minister also alleged that PM Modi has been using Central agencies like ED, Income Tax, CBI against the Opposition.
The report by Lokmat Times also stated of clear differences between Amit Shah and Narendra Modi.
During the 8 years of rule under Narendra Modi, it has been very rare to see any senior BJP leader or minister criticising the PM or his policies. After the report by Lokmat Times, speculations are rife within political circles about the identity of this senior minister. Many political pundits and those who observe the saffron party closely, claim that the minister in question is Nitin Gadkari, the Minister for Road Transport & Highways. Nitin Gadkari is not only fairly popular among the followers of the BJP, but also those who are principally opposed to the right-wing party. Moreover, the leader from Maharashtra's Nagpur is considered close to the leadership of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP's ideological mentor.
Friction before 2014
This, however, is not the first time that information about the strained relations between Gadkari and Modi has come out in public. During Gadkari's BJP Presidency, before Modi rose up to become the party's PM candidate, the leader from Maharashtra had told party leaders that there may be no need for Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to campaign in the high-stake Assembly elections due in Uttar Pradesh in 2012. Mr Gadkari had argued that Mr. Modi's rallies in the past did little to benefit the party electorally outside Gujarat.
The friction between the two top leaders, however, had begun much earlier over Mr. Gadkari's decision to re-induct the former general secretary, Sanjay Joshi, as coordinator for the party's Uttar Pradesh election preparations. This led to a tug-of-war between Gadkari and Modi, who had opposed the appointment of Joshi. Some party leaders had said Mr. Gadkari and Mr. Modi had not even talked to each other on the phone for several months.
Mr Gadkari, back then, had denied that he has prime ministerial ambitions, but there were several signs that he could be preparing to offer himself as a candidate to a divided party. However, his ambitions were dealt a blow after corruption allegations were leveled against him.
In 2012, Nitin Gadkari came under attack from various quarters after media expose of the alleged dubious funding of a company run by him. Gadkari's Purti group had investments from companies that did not seem to exist as addresses given to the Registrar of Companies turned out to be fake. The then BJP president also came under fire for having his driver and astrologer listed as major stakeholders in his company. The Income Tax Department conducted inquiries at various places including Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur and Kolkata to check on the companies which invested in the Purti group.
Ram Jethmalani, reputed lawyer and then Rajya Sabha MP, wrote a letter to BJP leader L.K. Advani asking for the removal of Nitin Gadkari as the president of the BJP. He had stated: "When there are serious allegations against Gadkari, he should have stayed away, if only to raise his stature in the public eye." He publicly criticised Gadkari, even though Gadkari continued to be the BJP president. When Jethmalani was questioned if the BJP's parent body, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), that had been supporting Gadkari, was controlling the BJP, Jethmalani had replied: "I am sure the RSS is trying to influence the functioning of the BJP. After all, BJP leaders have grown up with the RSS."
With the BJP building anti-corruption movement against the then UPA government, allegations against Gadkari came as a dent to party's efforts to corner the Congress-led government.
Though Gadkari appeared unwilling to relinquish his claim on an unprecedented second consecutive term as BJP President, an income tax investigation failed his chances. In January 2013, Gadkari tendered his resignation as party president to make way for Rajnath Singh to take over. After being appointed as party chief, Rajnath Singh said he would never have allowed predecessor Nitin Gadkari to quit if it was up to him. Singh added that it was an "emotional decision" that led Gadkari to put in his papers as BJP chief.
However, in a shocking revelation in November 2012, senior RSS ideologue M.G. Vaidya said that then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was behind the campaign against BJP president Nitin Gadkari. "The roots of the campaign against Nitin Gadkari have to be in Gujarat because when Ram Jethmalani demanded Gadkari's resignation, he also demanded that Narendra Modi be made the prime ministerial candidate of the party," Mr. Vaidya wrote in his blog, adding: "Modi himself seems to have strong prime ministerial ambitions because L.K. Advani and Nitin Gadkari have already said that they are not in the race for the PM. But Narendra Modi has still not said anything on this issue."
"Narendra Modi might have felt that Gadkari as the BJP president will hamper his chances of becoming the Prime Minster. He is using Jethmalani to fulfil his plans," the senior RSS leader had alleged.
Back to present
Nitin Gadkari, apart from being one of the most popular ministers in the Modi cabinet, has often made statements that grabbed headlines. In the last week only, in a statement that raised many eyebrows and gave scope for speculations, Gadkari said a strong Congress is needed for democracy.
"Democracy runs on two wheels. One wheel is the ruling party and another wheel is the opposition. A strong opposition is needed for democracy and that is why I feel from the heart that Congress should become stronger at the national level," Gadkari said during an interview along the sidelines of a journalism award function organised by Lokmat in Pune.
After the ED attached properties belonging to Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut on Tuesday, Nitin Gadkari attended a dinner organised by NCP Chief Sharad Pawar, where Gadkari was seen along with politicians of rival parties. Gadkari has always boasted about having coordial relationship with politicians from all parties.
Gadkari, at the same time, has made sure that his work as a union minister is amplified, which has earned him reputation of most efficient minister in Modi cabinet.
Though there has been no open opposition to Modi's leadership within the BJP because of his popularity among masses, there have always been voices in private conversations complaining about the undisputed control of Modi over the party.
With the Lokmat Times' report making it clear that all is not well within the top leadership of the saffron party, the party politics has probably come a full circle since Gadkari resigned as BJP president. If believed the statement by late MG Vaidya, it was Narendra Modi who had bowled out Gadkari to strengthen his claim on the prime ministerial candidate post. Now that Modi nears the end of his second term in office, will Gadkari make his moves to be the top claimant for the post? Will Gadkari manage to beat Modi at his own game? Or will he, once again, be sidelined?
It will be interesting to see how the inside politics within the BJP changes as time nears for 2024 general election. Will Nitin Gadkari manage to project himself as the next Prime Minister, or will he, like his party founder LK Advani, always remain 'the PM in waiting'?