BJP’s new mascot?
Nitin Gadkari has emerged as the most likely person to replace Rajnath Singh as the next BJP president. His name started doing the rounds soon after the RSS Sarsangchalak Mohan Bhagwat had indicated it to Arnab Goswami in a Times Now talk show that none of the four prominent second generation leaders — Sushma Swaraj, Venkaih Naidu, Anant Kumar and Arun Jaitley — were likely to be succeed Rajnath.
Bhagwat had not been direct about the rejection of the four initially but after misleading reports started appearing in a section of media, he went upfront on the issue in another interview — this time to Prabhu Chawla in Aaj Tak and ruled that the four were not being considered by the BJP.
Gadkari is said to be close to the RSS and his name along with some others such as Manohar Parikkar, the former Goa CM had been short listed for the coveted post by responsible functionaries of the Sangh.
It now seems that he is the front-runner and Rajnath may possibly cut short his own tenure by a couple of weeks to facilitate his election. But till it becomes official, he will remain a front-runner.
However, Gadkari’s short listing has not amused many in the BJP who are close to LK Advani, the leader of opposition. They are trying to raise questions about his ability to lead the national party given that he has only the Maharashtra experience behind him. Any of the four Delhi-based leaders would have been a better bet, it is being pointed out. In the process, even the RSS is being accused of meddling in the BJP affairs and in that context there has been an oblique criticism of even Bhagwat.
To me it appears that there is a deliberate attempt to demoralize Gadkari and also raise questions about his candidacy. I do not know the gentleman who has also served as a minister in the BJP-Shiv Sena government but believe that he is as capable as anyone else in his party to lead. The logic behind his elevation is that the RSS wants the current crop of BJP leaders to be replaced by entire a new lot.
This decision obviously has been taken after taking all pros and cons into account. In any case, the RSS cadres who have essentially made it into a cadre-based party have always driven the BJP. Without the RSS, no BJP leader, however, popular he or she may be on TV or media cannot run the show. Even Rajnath Singh was selected by the then RSS chief K.S.Sudershan in September 2005 after Advani’s Jinnah remarks. There were reports at that time that Rajnath was picked up soon after Sudershan had a meeting with Mulayam Singh Yadav. Though Rajnath had been UP’s Chief Minister, his being picked up was only because the RSS backed him. So far has his abilities are concerned, I am sure that the RSS must have found Gadkari to have a greater capacity than him so as to replace him with him.
I also have a take on those within the BJP who are reluctant to accept the new incumbent due to “his lack of experience and that no one knows him nationally’’. I only wish to ask them that who knew Bangaru Laxman when he became the BJP chief. The same is true for Jana Krishnamurthy and Venkaih Naidu. I do think that many people in Naidu’s home state know him even now. Only people of the Jana Sangh vintage outside Madhya Pradesh knew even Kushabhau Thakre. So in other words, Gadkari is as well known or not known as many of his predecessors.
Talking about the Jana Sangh days, the party had 10 presidents in its first 15 years, the most prominent being the two founders—Shyama Prasad Mukherjee and Balraj Madhok and Deen Dayal Upadhyaya.. When Atal Behari Vajpayee became the BJS chief after Deen Dayal Upadhyaya’s murder in 1968, he was merely known as a good orator who occasionally made witty remarks. He was not an all India figure as such. But he evolved as a national leader subsequently and was a popular Prime Minister. It was essentially because of his stature, the BJP could afford to have presidents like Bangaru Laxman, Jana Krishnamurthy and Venkaih Naidu. As long as he was around, it did not matter who headed the party. This includes L.K.Advani who of course is responsible for the growth of the BJP in the late eighties and nineties but always benefited from Vajpayee’s stature. Incidentally, when we say that there have been no big leaders in the BJP, it is because after Vajpayee took over in 1968, only he and Advani ran the show except for a brief period when Murali Manohar Joshi was the president. In fact, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya identified Joshi as organization chief in the mid sixties itself. But he remains ignored and on sidelines.
After Vajpayee’s exit from active politics, the BJP has been seeing a downward trend. Even Advani is only a bonsai version of his earlier self and if any of his cronies was to become the BJP president, he would not have been able to support him as Vajpayee’s presence had helped the other BJP presidents. Therefore the RSS must have evaluated all these things and come to the conclusion that the party needs a face-lift. The best way of doing it would be to get someone from outside Advani’s stable of supporters. It is to be seen whether Gadkari will rise to the expectations of the RSS or be a part of history subsequently. He has to on one hand cope with the Advani coterie and at the same time carry the majority of the party with him. It is a challenge like what he must have never faced.