BJP President Nitin Gadkari is facing what is perhaps the worst crisis of his political career. Though his party had agreed to appoint him for a second term at its national executive meeting at Surajkund last month, it already seems quite unlikely. Questions are being raised about the funding of Purti Power and Sugar Limited (PPSL), of which Gadkari was the chairman till last year. Ideal Road Builders (IRB), a Maharashtra-based construction firm, has made major investments and given loans to PPSL. IRB is alleged to have bagged several contracts for infrastructure projects in 1995-99 when Gadkari was Maharashtra’s PWD minister. As media reports have recently exposed, most of the companies that invested in PPSL had fictitious addresses and directors who were associates of Gadkari or his family.
Gadkari was the RSS candidate for BJP president. When his name had come up, senior BJP leaders raised concerns about his business interests in Maharashtra, but Gadkari suited the RSS very well. A swayamsevak all his life, he had no qualms about openly accepting the RSS’ influence over the BJP.
Soon, however, things started going wrong. In 2010, when Gadkari called RJD President Lalu Prasad Yadav a “dog”, it had the RSS squirming. Then, just before the 2012 Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls, despite opposition within the party, including from LK Advani, Gadkari allowed Babu Singh Kushwaha into the BJP, a former minister of the Mayawati government, who had been removed on corruption charges. This was later counted among the reasons for the BJP’s abysmal performance in the state.
Again, during the Rajya Sabha election, though both Advani and Sushma Swaraj were keen on having SS Ahluwalia, the then BJP’s deputy leader in the Rajya Sabha, to be re-elected from Jharkhand, Gadkari scuttled Ahluwalia’s chances by nominating his close acquaintance Anshuman Mishra, an NRI businessman little known in politics. Following protests within the party, the RSS intervened and Mishra was dropped like a hot potato.
Things got worse when Mishra started attacking senior leaders like Swaraj, Murli Manohar Joshi and Arun Jaitley. Jaitley even filed a defamation suit against him. Finally, Ahluwalia was made the candidate, but he lost the election. After that, Gadkari got his close associate Ajay Sancheti elected to the Rajya Sabha from Maharashtra.
This marked a new low in Gadkari’s relationship with his senior party colleagues. The RSS, too, was not pleased with these developments. Then came the allegations by Anjali Damania and Arvind Kejriwal. Surplus land acquired by the Maharashtra government to build dams had been given to Gadkari’s firms and not returned to the farmers. Gadkari was allegedly working in collusion with then irrigation minister of Maharashtra, NCP’s Ajit Pawar. In the current mess, the media has been agog with reports of Gadkari’s PPSL having dubious investing companies.
The shadow over Gadkari forced senior BJP leaders to meet the top brass of the RSS individually, asking them to intervene and stop him from assuming the office of party president for a second term. Murli Manohar Joshi even told Bhaiyyaji Joshi, the RSS second-in-command, that the BJP was getting a bad name with Gadkari as president.
The RSS leaders are reportedly working out a strategy to deal with the Gadkari situation. After all, he was the organisation’s choice as BJP president. With allegations flying thick and fast, he has now become a soft target — someone who could embarrass the party as well as the Sangh Parivar.
On his part, Gadkari met RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat to put his point across. “As a swayamsevak, probity in public life is a must. An investigation may clear the air, but till that happens, any swayamsevak in an important post should quit,” says a senior RSS functionary on condition of anonymity.
There are indications from the RSS that Gadkari ought to be given a face-saver. This could mean that he won’t go in for a second term till the time his name is not cleared. The final decision will not be taken till December when Gadkari’s term actually comes to an end. But it is clear that the BJP president’s image has taken a major hit.