IN THE first interviews he gave after taking over as BJP president in December last year, Nitin Gadkari mentioned four names he wanted back in the party: ideologue Govindacharya, former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh, former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Uma Bharti and one-time party general secretary Sanjay Joshi. It is now time for political analysts to assess Gadkari’s first year at the helm — and the return of the rebels is still all talk.
The gameplan was to bolster the party’s recovery. Each of the four had different reasons for leaving the party — and different reasons for not rejoining. Govindacharya, for instance, has iterated he finds the party too compromised; he sees little difference between the BJP and the Congress now. The ideologue, who was among the builders of the BJP in the 1980s and ’90s, reacted sharply to Gadkari’s overtures in April this year, asking him to “mind his tongue”. All quiet on this front now.
Kalyan Singh is the exact opposite, his case weakened by his rank opportunism. The original Hindu hriday samrat left the party to pursue political ambitions (and those of his son), came back to the party, and left again to join hands with Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav. He now finds himself relegated to irrelevance. Besides, he has antagonised former party president Raj Nath Singh. He is too old now, but if he plays his cards right, his best chance is to get his son a little something in the party.
Uma Bharti’s is the most interesting predicament. She was expelled five years ago after publicly opposing party veteran Lal Krishna Advani and then Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan. Before the May 2009 general election, she offered to join the NDA and campaign for it. Advani asked her to join the party instead, and this was expected to happen after a new president took over.
Mohan Bhagwat, chief of the party’s parent body, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), has taken a personal interest in her return, several times asking Gadkari to build a consensus for her return.
Advani’s followers, Sushma Swaraj, Ananth Kumar and Venkaiah Naidu were opposed to her return; Bharti has mass support to go with a mercurial temper. The Delhi set just doesn’t want her around. But Advani got them to back off, assuring Gadkari he could do as he wanted. Since then, he has checked progress over the matter repeatedly with Gadkari.
Two weeks ago, when Gadkari told him that there wasn’t a consensus yet, Advani is believed to have told him there had been no consensus on his becoming president — if Gadkari could become party chief, Bharti could surely return to the party!
BHAGWAT AND Advani are the two men behind Gadkari’s sudden elevation to the top flight. So why hasn’t he been able to do what is their bidding, and his declared wish? Two words: Suresh Soni.
Soni, the RSS’ BJP interface, and Bharti had a very public falling out in 2005, with Bharti’s letter to Advani against him getting leaked to the press. He is Chauhan’s political godfather, and Chauhan has opposed Bharti’s return at his mentor’s behest. Gadkari has told party seniors he is reluctant to irk a sitting chief minister. But that in itself does not explain why Bharti hasn’t returned to the party. Nothing does. Chauhan recently visited Bharti when she was hospitalised, adding much grist to the mill of political speculation.
The only speculation in Sanjay Joshi’s return is whether he will directly rejoin the BJP or spend some time in the RSS first; Advani’s opposition to his return seems to have ended. The media-shy RSS pracharak is known as much for a sexually explicit CD as for his dislike of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi — Joshi has long suspected and told people close to him that the CD was Modi’s handiwork.
Several members of the Sangh Parivar believe that Joshi is the only man who can challenge Modi. But only if Gadkari gets him back in the fold.