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Sangh power play shadow on Gadkari

New Delhi, Dec. 26: The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s internal power dynamics have cast a shadow over Nitin Gadkari’s prospective “re-election” as BJP president, Sangh and BJP sources said.

If Gadkari does make it to a second term, the sources said, it would be “purely by default” arising from the BJP’s “failure” to come up with an alternative because of the presence of too many contenders and patrons.

Sources said RSS sarsanghchalak (chief) Mohanrao Bhagwat was Gadkari’s only unambiguous backer. His immediate deputy, general secretary Suresh Joshi, doesn’t share his enthusiasm for the incumbent BJP chief, whose reputation has been seriously challenged ever since allegations of dodgy financial deals surfaced against him.

Those placed third in the Sangh’s hierarchy — joint general secretaries Suresh Soni, Dattatreya Hosbole, Krishna Gopal and K.C. Kannan — are reportedly against Gadkari or are “neutral”.

In the 23-member presidium that Bhagwat oversees, a vocal section has been arguing that if the BJP is to have a serious shot at regaining power in 2014, the first priority should be to get an “effective” helmsman who would be “respected” by his colleagues as well as cadres.

“Gadkari doesn’t fit the bill. Some of his colleagues might want him to continue because of their deep-seated rivalries. But the cadres in one voice have virtually rejected him. If he is reinstated, they will be demoralised and will stop working,” a source said.

In the past, the sarsanghchalak’s writ was unquestioned. An indication of how this certitude might not hold any more was evident when Bhagwat appointed four joint general secretaries instead of one because he reportedly feared that his veto might not prevail if the No. 2 and No. 3 were against it. A larger team, on the other hand, could give him greater latitude to push his decision through.

An example of the power play was manifest when Soni was outnumbered when he lobbied earlier this month for an extension for Prabhat Jha as Madhya Pradesh BJP president. Bhagwat and the others rooted for Narendra Tomar, Jha’s predecessor, and had their way.

“However, Jha’s rejection ought not to be a consolation for Bhagwat. If Soni did not have his way in Madhya Pradesh, Bhagwat can be isolated on Gadkari,” a source said.

A section of the BJP saw in Tomar’s return the possibility of the re-entry of Rajnath Singh, Gadkari’s predecessor.

But this theory was jettisoned by some BJP leaders who felt that Rajnath was not exactly the “most credible” person to head the party in an election. They said Rajnath, a former Uttar Pradesh chief minister, had never proved his mettle even in his home state and that he had “too many powerful adversaries” internally.

In the chessboard that Nagpur, the RSS’s headquarters, has laid out, the king’s aura of supremacy will also depend on how the queen, the knights, the rooks, the bishops and the pawns of 11 Ashoka Road (the BJP headquarters) make their moves.

In fact, the BJP headquarters is not the only mover and shaker.

Its chief ministers, notably Narendra Modi, will shape the RSS’s “mind” as much as L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and the others who constitute the BJP’s core team.

Advani and Joshi have apparently let it be known that if Gadkari is re-anointed, it would be “disastrous”. The other notables are keeping their counsel to themselves.

From January 1, it is learnt, various leaders including party chief ministers will call on Advani with their inputs on who should head the BJP.

Part two of the process will see Advani filter the inputs and give the summation to Bhagwat.

The RSS had hoped that Advani, who is well into his eighties, would fade away into the twilight. Ironically for the Sangh, the BJP is banking on the veteran leader’s seniority and “sense of authority” to prevail upon the RSS to have anyone other than Gadkari.