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Visit to Sonia, a pranam to Ramdev
20 minutes at 10 Janpath in Gadkari’s first one-to-one

New Delhi, June 4: Nitin Gadkari has decided to spend “more and more” time in Delhi, negotiating its tricky political terrain, networking with the power establishment and making friends in other parties.

The BJP president had recently won an endorsement from the party national executive for a second innings at its helm.

“The idea is to raise his country-wide profile. So far, he was seen as a mofussil politician from Nagpur with the ranking of a corporator. He is set to contest the next Lok Sabha election (from Nagpur) so he needs to shore up his standing,” said an aide, stopping short of saying whether Gadkari nurtures prime ministerial aspirations.

Gadkari’s first port of call was 10 Janpath, the residence of Sonia Gandhi.

A source close to the BJP boss said he had sought time from Sonia to personally invite her for his son Sarang’s marriage in Nagpur on July 2. He requested her for an appointment today because she is slated to be out of Delhi from Tuesday. Sonia granted him one this evening.

The tête-à-tête lasted about 20 minutes. The word from Gadkari’s aides was that Sonia enquired about his son and the rest of the family, including his wife, an older son and a daughter. “There was no political talk,” said one, scotching speculation that the Congress and BJP chiefs might have dwelt on the presidential election.

Sonia expressed her inability to attend the Nagpur wedding because she would not be in the country, but she said she would definitely turn up for the reception that will be hosted later in Delhi.

“She was courteous enough to see him off to his car,” an aide said.

Although Gadkari has met Sonia on other occasions, including an all-party meeting the Prime Minister had called, this was their first one-to-one interaction.

Despite the sharp edge to the BJP’s anti-Sonia discourse, its leaders have privately harboured a wish to catch the Congress president’s eyes and ears.

When Sonia once phoned Gadkari’s predecessor Rajnath Singh to seek the BJP’s support on an issue, his office quickly spread the news to the media.

Lok Sabha Opposition leader Sushma Swaraj and Sonia have reportedly become such “good friends” that they are supposed to exchange notes on the saris they wear and the state of their health. Sushma’s threat to do a sackcloth-and-ashes act had Sonia become the Prime Minister in 2004 is a thing of the past.

L.K. Advani’s tea-and-biscuits session with Sonia and Rahul Gandhi at his parliamentary chamber shortly after President Barack Obama’s visit is enshrined in the veteran’s lore. More so because Rahul remembered that Advani’s birthday was two days later and wished him with flowers.

Gadkari’s forays to acquire friends in Delhi have netted him an important one: Mulayam Singh Yadav, the Samajwadi Party chief.

A source close to Mulayam said he “got to know Gadkari very well” and was “impressed with his unpretentiousness and pragmatism” —attributes that have not endeared him to some BJP colleagues who wish he was “more sophisticated”.

Gadkari’s aides said it was his “down to earth” ways that caused him to “spontaneously” touch Ramdev’s feet when the yoga televangelist called on him at his residence today and sought BJP support for his campaign against black money.

“TV channels flashed it as breaking news. But what is the big deal in showing one’s respect to a swami? It is in keeping with Hindu traditions,” an aide insisted.

Gadkari expressed solidarity with Ramdev’s latest endeavour, saying his agitation was “above party lines and for the country’s benefit”.