It was Nagpur man Nitin Gadkari’s birthday yesterday. So, the extension granted to him by BJP as party chief can be deemed a fitting gift. But it comes with strings attached. Gadkari is believed to have been entrusted the responsibility to rein in Gujarat CM Narendra Modi and former Karnataka CM BS Yeddyu-rappa, two of the party’s most ambitious leaders, who, it’s been alleged, have wanted to run their respective states as their fiefdom.
Besides them, Gadkari is expected to apply brakes on other overambitious leaders in BJP such as Vasundhara Raje and others who are working behind the curtains. Over and above, the blue-eyed boy of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has the unenviable task of leading the party in the next general elections, which will be held exactly two years from now 2014.
In many ways, there’s hardly any difference between Congress and BJP now. Both appear factionalised, with regional leaders often attempting to assert themselves and go against the wishes of the party high command. While Congress is finding it tough to sideline some of its leaders despite several indictments by courts and constitutional authorities such as CAG, the situation is not too different with BJP, as it is unable to tame tainted leaders such as Yeddyurappa.
After Gadkari was anointed the party chief three years ago, BJP wrested power in Jharkhand. Gadkari toured almost every nook and corner of the nation to revitalise the state units of the party, which offered mixed results such as a win in Goa and a loss in Uttaranchal. But, one of the glaring inadequacies has been the party’s failure to stand up as a fierce Opposition to nail the UPA government, despite scam after scam being unear-thed. That’s perhaps why BJP’s announcement of a bandh in protest of the steep petrol price hike has failed to cheer up the demoralised public.
Now that he’s got the high command’s mandate, Gadkari will have to rise to the expectations. He showed some authority when he made Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank to resign as Uttarakhand state CM without any fuss to install B C Khanduri.
But he found himself in a soup over matters in states such as Rajasthan and Karnataka. Despite strong attempts, BJP has not been able to make a mark in Assam where the party has been trying to gain ground to enter in the northeast zone since the days of late Pramod Mahajan.
Now Gadkari has to bridge the gap between the party hardliners and the leaders growing beyond the party lines. The Modis, Yeddyurappas and Rajes offer him some anxious moments, and on the other hand BJP allies such as Shiv Sena, Janata Dal (United) want the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to accommodate their whims and fancies. The reaction of Sena chief Bal Thackeray through his party mouthpiece that Gadkari has landmines and not just thorns in his path says enough of the challenges ahead.
BJP’s attempts to get close to MNS to check Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, have not been successful with Sena leaders’ stiff resistance. BJP has now understood the limitations it has in reaching the goal of power and its dream could become easier by aligning with the Raj Thackeray-led party. It is also perturbed by Sena’s hobnobbing with Congress since the alliance partner decided to back Congress candidate Pratibha Patil for the presidential polls. It was done preciously to impress Congress leadership to avoid Sena detractor Narayan Rane becoming the state CM. Had Rane become the CM three years back Sena would have been in deep trouble with the thorough knowledge of its affairs that Rane maintains.
In this situation, Gadkari’s task becomes doubly difficult – to lead the national unit to success as well as guide the state unit to defeat the Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra. Any attempt by BJP to align with MNS to outsmart Sena would meet with equal resistance from Nitish Kumar led JD (U) whose support is crucial for the party at the centre and in Bihar. The party cannot play a gamble when it wants to put up itself as a viable alternative at the centre.
Gadkari has also moved two steps back by removing his trusted friend Sanjay Joshi, a Nagpur man, from the national executive at the behest of Narendra Modi. The tiff is surprising when both Modi and Joshi belong to RSS cadre where high discipline is maintained. It’s clear that Gadkari has not only the UPA government to contend with but also his own party men and their growing ambitions.
The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY