New Delhi, Jan. 23: Rajnath Singh was today “elected” unopposed as the BJP president in a choreographed show of unity that brought together L.K. Advani, Nitin Gadkari, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley on a common dais.
This after weeks of discreet manipulations and jousting that culminated in Gadkari’s ouster despite RSS chief Mohanrao Bhagwat’s unflinching backing.
Their relaxed demeanours and occasional smiles supposedly suggested that the BJP’s nuclear family was one. At least for now.
But Advani’s gentle swipes at the outgoing chief, Gadkari, and the incoming one, Rajnath, in his address reflected the veteran’s state of mind: sources said he was “happy” with Gadkari’s exit but “not thrilled” about Rajnath’s anointment.
But in the circumstances caused by the yo-yoing RSS-BJP equation, the RSS was also forced to yield for a “half-way” compromise like Advani.
On Tuesday, at the last meeting between Advani, Gadkari and RSS general secretary Suresh “Bhaiyyaji” Joshi, sources claimed an “exasperated” Joshi asked Advani who he wanted as the BJP chief after he conclusively ruled out Gadkari and sounded iffy about Rajnath.
Before Advani replied, Gadkari proposed Rajnath’s name and said it was final. “He served Advani with a fait accompli,” the source said.
Rajnath managed to drum up cheerleaders from his constituency, Ghaziabad, that borders Delhi and from western Uttar Pradesh and conjure up a celebratory air.
But many leaders privately expressed their anxiety over whether he would be allowed even a “honeymoon” phase. “We aren’t sure when the party will erupt into another bout of infighting,” said one.
Rajnath’s first challenge is to stave off a crisis in Karnataka where two ministers and a dozen MLAs pulled out of the Jagadish Shettar government to join B.S. Yeddyurappa.
Sources said the collective anxiety arose on two counts: Advani had still not abandoned his “ambition” to become the next Prime Minister.
The other “aspirants” like Jaitley and Sushma believed they were second to none because even if the 2014 verdict favoured the BJP as the single largest party but in need of allies, they would be preferred over the cadres’ choice, Narendra Modi. Sources said Modi had managed to get the RSS on his side.
Gadkari’s failure to negotiate the Delhi political terrain proved to be his and Bhagwat’s undoing.
Modi’s advantage was that unlike the provincial Gadkari, he spent a long stint in Delhi, worked in the heartland states as a minder and had proved he was “capable” of fighting internal ambushes, a source said.
While noting that no national president’s election had attracted such a “large” gathering as Rajnath’s today, Advani advised him that his “special responsibility” was not to compromise on anything that was “immoral”.
Advani also asked him to revive the party in Uttar Pradesh from its “painful” position. As a former chief minister and a state party chief, Rajnath never steered the BJP to victory in his home state.
In his tweets, Modi said that as an agriculture minister in A.B. Vajpayee’s government, Rajnath was “always associated with farmers” and would, therefore, bring “gains” to the BJP.