The biggest defence for BJP president Nitin Gadkari is being mounted by a group of leaders who are known to be hostile to the idea of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi leading the party in the run-up to the 2014 polls. After questions were raised about Gadkari’s nature of business, this group took some time to recoup and launch a counter-offensive.
Predictably led by the veteran LK Advani and leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, these leaders have begun raising their voice, saying that Gadkari had already said that he is open to the idea of a probe and that the party would stand by him till he was proven guilty.
For the time being, the BJP is not revealing the cracks within the party because Gadkari with his Nagpur roots enjoys strong RSS backing from the beginning.
Advani penned and published a blog on the day of Dussehra to insist that Gadkari could not be accused of wrongdoing.
On the same day, Sushma Swaraj tweeted in favour of the BJP president. Swaraj then followed it up with another strong defence of the promoter of the Purti group of companies on the campaign trail in Himachal Pradesh on Thursday.
Other leaders have not been as vocal. The spokespersons are treading the party line, but most other senior decision-makers and middle-level functionaries in the party are keeping a close watch, intently studying the reactions coming in from different directions, especially from the Nagpur headquarters of the RSS and the Ahmedabad office of the Gujarat CEO, Narendra Modi. They would rather be fence-sitters for now. They do not want to be caught taking sides.
Advani’s reasons for supporting Gadkari at this juncture are easy to understand. Only earlier this year, during the Mumbai national executive Advani was apparently against Gadkari being gifted a second term to steer the BJP. But at the same executive, he also sensed the unchallenged ascendance of Modi and, feeling isolated, decided he would rather be closer to the less dangerous Gadkari than the over-ambitious Modi.
That same Mumbai executive found a leader of the capability and reach of Sushma Swaraj isolated as well. Swaraj knows that there’s a strong section of the BJP support base which wants to see her as a strong claimant for the prime ministerial job. She has received the odd support of Shiv Sena supremo Balasaheb Thackeray. The Mumbai executive took away her optimistic outlook. With Modi’s coronation taken for granted, she was virtually shown the door and given the clear message that she better fall in line.
Swaraj obviously is fighting with her back to the wall. And Gadkari’s backing closer to the election in 2014 will help her cause. That is the reason why she sees logic in supporting the BJP president at a time he is facing a crisis. Swaraj has been quite assertive in the past 48 hours, making it amply clear that she is on the side of Gadkari.
But Sushma and Advani are trying to help out a maligned party president at a time when the disclosures against him are bound to dilute the strength of the BJP’s campaign against the scam tainted UPA-2 government. There is a section of the BJP which is already worried and knows that the Congress will exploit the situation and try to derive whatever little advantage it can in the weeks ahead.