New Delhi, Oct. 25: Nitin Gadkari’s controversial business deals have thrown his continuance as BJP president for a second term into doubt, though some in the party have reservations about dumping a senior office-bearer because of an “unsubstantiated” media campaign.
The BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh have informally begun mutual as well as exclusive consultations to find a successor, sources said.
Gadkari, whose tenure ends on December 19, is under pressure from the cadres to quit on his own and help the party salvage whatever remains of its “iqbal” (integrity).
Still, Gadkari is sparing no effort to stay on, Sangh sources said. He is apparently working the phone lines overtime, pleading innocence and claiming that what is being projected as “malfeasance” falls within “acceptable business practices” in a liberalised economy.
Gadkari’s aides stressed he would be campaigning in Himachal Pradesh, which goes to the polls on November 4.
The BJP and the Sangh have apparently set two criteria for a purported successor. One, the person must be “competent, credible and clean” enough to lead the party in the next Lok Sabha elections. Two, he or she must have a “more than reasonable chance” of ensuring that the BJP ends up at least as the largest single party.
Gadkari was plucked out of Maharashtra and placed on Delhi’s tricky political terrain to straighten out matters in a fractured BJP, but his proposed successor is to be someone “familiar and comfortable” with national politics.
Gadkari has rejected the charges against him and asked for a probe into each, but the Centre has not announced any so far.
However, the income-tax department is believed to be probing the sources of funding of the various companies that invested in a cooperative called Purti Power and Sugar Ltd, of which the BJP president was a director until 14 months ago.
Media reports have claimed that Purti profited from major investments and large loans from the Ideal Road Builders Group, which allegedly won lucrative contracts between 1995 and 1999, when Gadkari was Maharashtra PWD minister.
Reports have also alleged that ghost companies were floated to make investments and fake addresses given to the Registrar of Companies.
Officially, the BJP has stood by its chief, with L.K. Advani leading the defence. In private, BJP leaders have divergent views on the political implications of allowing Gadkari to helm the party at a time it faces elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat.
Sources said Narendra Modi had conveyed to the Sangh his annoyance at the Gadkari affair and asked how he was supposed to defend the party chief and simultaneously target the Congress’s “corruption”.
But some feel that removing a party chief because of a “largely unsubstantiated” media and civil society campaign would set an “unwanted” precedent. “Today it’s Gadkari, tomorrow it might be his successor. Where do we stop?” a source asked.
Sources also cited how Gadkari had succeeded in somewhat covering up the BJP’s fault-lines that had become glaring after the 2009 election rout. His exit would be fraught with the risk of a renewed conflict, they added.
More so, because the once monolithic Sangh is itself betraying signs of a lack of cohesion, with senior officials divided in their support of this or that BJP leader.
Although the BJP has officially blamed the Congress’s “dirty tricks” cell for the muck-raking over Gadkari, a suspicion endures within that the operation may have been engineered from inside.