Dark Horse In The Saffron Stable

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Nitin Gadkari is a saffronite who can be counted upon to make development the BJP’s leading plank — just as he did when he was PWD minister in Mumbai. He also has deep pockets, reports Rana Ayyub

The chosen one? Even his rivals have nice things to say about Nitin Gadkari
The chosen one? Even his rivals have nice things to say about Nitin Gadkari
Photo: Ambarin Afsar

NOT EVEN in their wildest dreams had anyone in the BJP, or outside it, expected Nitin Jayaram Gadkari, 52, to be considered for the top job. But come January, and those wild dreams will in all probability have become sober reality: Gadkari will have become BJP president.

Gadkari, whose candidature is being pushed by the RSS, is steeped in the Sangh Parivar culture. Born in RSS hub Nagpur to Bhanutai and Jayaram Gadkari, both active members of the Jana Sangh and close to the RSS, he rarely missed attending its meetings.

Another fortuitous event that helped Gadkari in being chosen Rajnath Singh’s successor is that he is a Deshasth Brahmin – a factor that counts immensely in Maharashtra politics.

Yet, though he grew up imbibing Sangh values, the news of his elevation took everyone, including veteran BJP watchers, by surprise. Sitting beside a book rack on which lay LK Advani’s autobiography My Country My Life, Gadkari dodged all queries relating to his almost certain succession, claiming also that he was a reluctant candidate.

Had this come from some power-hungry politician, the remark could have been dismissed as mere posturing. But not so in Gadkari’s case: there are any number of people who will tell you how comfortable he feels being based in Maharashtra. One man who is going to be affected by Gadkari’s elevation is his bitter rival Gopinath Munde, to whom he has always had to play second fiddle.

Besides being a veteran of Maharashtra politics, Gadkari also has deep pockets, having high stakes in the sugar and power segments. As a trustee of the Poorti Karkhana, which is managed by his two sons, both engineers, Gadkari presides over a cooperative with an annual turnover of Rs 300 crore.

But he also knows that his wealth by itself cannot possibly guarantee success in such a fractious party; and he skillfully skirts questions on the failed leadership of Rajnath Singh and LK Advani – the man he is closest to.

Indeed he would seem to have developed this facility for dodging embarrassing posers into a superfine art. “Every party has its highs and lows, whether it is us or the Congress; and just now you can sniff change everywhere.” Asked to state his vision for the BJP, the diplomat in him again takes over. “Like my party, I am for development,” he says. “Just look at what Modi has done for Gujarat.”

Gadkari finds no merit in the argument that just because he has never won a parliamentary or Assembly election it would be suicidal having him at the helm – especially at a time when the lotus is wilting everywhere. “Winning elections is no way to judge a leader’s worth. I entered politics to serve the people.”

Gadkari Finds No Merit In The Argument That Just Because He Has Never Won An Election He Is The Wrong Choice

Insiders say another thing that worked for Gadkari is his ability to bond even with his rivals. This much is conceded even by his political opponents. Says Chhagan Bhujbal, deputy CM of Maharashtra who also holds charge of the PWD (a portfolio that Gadkari too has held): “He’s one of the few Opposition leaders who raises questions only after doing his homework thoroughly. And though he is my rival I have only praise for the projects commissioned under his watch – such as the Mumbai- Pune expressway. Senior MNS leader Shirish Parkar, who too has been a critic of the BJP, is just as appreciative. He finds Gadkari competent, with the capacity to think on his feet.

Within the BJP too, Gadkari is among the counted few who enjoy the support of senior leaders like Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and Rajnath Singh. Also of Pratibha Advani – the daughter of LK Advani, whose solid backing means opposition to his candidature can safely be ruled out.

rana@tehelka.com

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