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BJP chief controversy puts Sangh on trial

New Delhi, Oct. 25: The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh may lose its position as the feared and revered paterfamilias of the Sangh fraternity if the scam-tainted Nitin Gadkari continues as BJP president, party sources said.

Defending Gadkari and securing a second term for him were apparently part of Sangh chief Mohanrao Bhagwat’s strategy to consolidate his hold over the Sangh. Both look shaky right now.

The question many in the Sangh and the BJP are asking is: why would the sarsanghchalak throw his weight behind an individual whose “primary interest” was business and not politics and trust him to preside over the country’s principal Opposition party?

The feeling is that Bhagwat had already crossed the Lakshman rekha in 2009 by overtly backing Gadkari, because the Sangh is not supposed to declare its political preferences.

As Gadkari belongs to Sangh headquarters Nagpur and was constantly in and out of its compound, the party was agog with gossip about the “wonderful equation” he shared with Bhagwat.

A businessman who described himself as a “social entrepreneur”, Gadkari’s first brush with controversy came when he tried to get Rajya Sabha seats for an NRI and a Nagpur businessman, Ajay Sancheti, against the wishes of some BJP leaders.

These leaders prevailed on Bhagwat to scupper the NRI’s chances but failed to have their way on Sancheti, whose family has old Sangh connections. Sancheti’s name now figures in many scams.

Yet yesterday, both appeared on the Nagpur dais from where Bhagwat spoke on national security, corruption and other issues. Gadkari wore the Sangh’s trademark khaki shorts and white shirt while Sancheti stuck to his kurta-pyjama.

“It is not important how much money has been earned. It’s important how it has been put to use, whether it has been put to good use or not,” Bhagwat said. Gadkari’s aides recycled the line to defend his business interests and say the money earned was meant to benefit the poor of Vidarbha and not the BJP chief.

However, there are few takers for Bhagwat’s line even within the Sangh, which stands more divided than ever in the past. So much so that Bhagwat has expanded his collegium to include “loyalists” he hopes would secure his position if there’s a threat to it.

The word in the BJP is that if and when it comes to selecting Gadkari’s successor, the party’s core group and not Bhagwat will exercise its veto. The core group includes L.K. Advani, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and Ananth Kumar, whom the Sangh would have banished from the BJP if it could.