New Delhi, Jan. 22: The BJP tonight fell back on Rajnath Singh to lead the party, capping a day of dramatic developments that saw incumbent Nitin Gadkari formally referring to his “re-election” tomorrow and immediately correcting the mistake.
Sources said late tonight that Rajnath had been chosen the consensus candidate for party president.
If the consensus holds till tomorrow, when the election is scheduled to take place, it would mean that L.K. Advani’s eleventh-hour gamble has paid off and he was able to thwart the RSS’s effort to foist Gadkari as BJP chief for another three-year term.
Less than 24 hours to go before the elections, Advani pulled out all stops to derail Gadkari. Advani’s manoeuvres included pushing Yashwant Sinha, the former finance and foreign minister, as a candidate against Gadkari.
Advani’s negate-Gadkari endeavour was helped by this morning’s income tax investigations into the firms that were linked to his Purti Group. The probe into the firms, based in Mumbai, reinforced the misgivings among a large section of the BJP that having a “scam-tainted” president would forever throttle its campaign against the UPA’s “corruption”.
That Gadkari was jolted by the I-T-generated heat was evident in the first statement the BJP issued on his behalf around half-past three. Although he is returning to Delhi tonight, he was so anxious to pre-empt Advani’s counter-moves that the statement said: “Coming as it does on the eve of his (Gadkari’s) re-election as BJP president for a second term, the I-T department’s action smacks of the ruling UPA’s nefarious designs to create confusion in the BJP ranks.”
According to the poll schedule, the leaders will file their nominations around 10am on Wednesday after which the scrutiny and withdrawals will happen. If there are multiple nominees, the date for a contest will be announced.
Minutes later, the statement was tweaked and the “corrected” edition said: “Coming as it does on the eve of election of BJP president….”
Notwithstanding, the typo “error”— most BJP sources emphasised it was “intentional”— and Sinha’s declaration to contest, sources said the RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, discarded whatever doubts he might have had and decided it was “Gadkari or none”.
On Monday, Mahesh Jethmalani, the son of Ram Jethmalani, said he was willing to contest against Gadkari. Many in the BJP dismissed the Mumbai-based lawyer as a “lightweight”.
Thawarchand Gehlot, general secretary and returning officer for the presidential poll, confirmed that an emissary of Sinha had picked up the nomination papers and a copy of the voters’ list but added that until late evening, Mahesh had not formally authorised his secretary to collect the required documents.
Once Sinha signalled his intent, sources acknowledged that the contest had become “more serious” than they had expected. For one, Sinha is still highly regarded by the RSS because during his stint in the government, he had appeased the organisation wherever he could, the sources said.
Two, he has Advani’s unstinted backing. Third, sources said, Advani was unprepared to yield to the RSS because he feared that if he did and made place for Gadkari, it could spell the end of his political career.
The BJP grapevine had it that Advani could have been the first casualty if Gadkari had won a fresh term and could have lost the only position he holds as the chairman of the NDA parliamentary party.