‘Projection’ of Nitin Gadkari As Alternative to Modi: An RSS Ploy?
With the general elections around the corner, the shadow power play between Modi & Gadkari has intensified. Image used for representational purposes.
With the general elections around the corner, the shadow power play between Modi & Gadkari has intensified. Image used for representational purposes.(Photo: The Quint)

‘Projection’ of Nitin Gadkari As Alternative to Modi: An RSS Ploy?

What does one make of frequent statements by Union Minister Nitin Gadkari, repeatedly embarrassing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership, forcing it to order spokespersons scurrying for a briefing on what to say in the event of media questions and debates?

There are no ready answers to this question which has vexed political observers for long. 

Responses vary within the Sangh Parivar circles from Delhi to Nagpur, and even in western Uttar Pradesh, where this writer travelled to recently, and a region which is going to be central to the BJP matching its 2014 tally.

Also Read : Which Neta Spun Dreams? Only Nitin Gadkari Knows the Answer

Why Can’t BJP Top Brass Rein In Gadkari?

At one level, there is a belief that the Maharashtra leader has become the cause of a major headache for the Modi-Bhagwat-Joshi (Bhaiyyaji)-Shah quartet. But the top brass cannot initiate action against him with the aim to rein him in for two reasons.

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First, this is an election year, and disciplinary action against a senior member would boomerang. It would provide ready fodder to the Opposition, and add to the resentment brewing within the organisation, at their sense of marginalisation in the Modi-Shah era. The viewpoint of this group is strongly seconded by the Opposition because it sees potential, and hopes for the BJP campaign to implode this summer.

RSS’s ‘Plan B’?

The second perspective, provided by a large number of groups, surprisingly including significant individuals within the RSS network, see Gadkari's repeated assertions as part of the RSS’s ‘Plan B’; he being the alternate leader in the event of the BJP falling short of numbers, and the RSS needing someone trustworthy, who does not get the goat of existing allies, and can also lure new partners into the coalition.

This group argues that Gadkari has the potential to be a counter to Modi just as Atal Bihari Vajpayee once was to the hard-nosed L K Advani. This viewpoint is reinforced by the fact that although Gadkari does not wear a Hindutva armlet, at heart he remains an unswerving loyalist.

Also Read : Gadkari eyeing PM post: Opposition

A Game of Deception?

There is a third viewpoint that the projection of Gadkari as a 'softer' and more 'amenable' alternative to Narendra Modi, is essentially a RSS ploy to make ‘fence-sitters’ to stay on and vote for the party.

This section believes that the wobbly lot who backed the BJP completely in 2014, are either increasingly becoming potential NOTA ‘voters’ or even willing to vote for Opposition candidates because they are put off by the stentorian style of the prime minister. They contend that once the objective is secured and BJP gets another mandate, albeit smaller, Gadkari will go back to being the “able minister that he is”, because the masses back Modi.

For the moment, Gadkari’s not-so-veiled potshots at Modi, the arguments goes, are to provide people with a sense of an ‘alternative’ lurking in the background, and thereby keep potential deserters within the fold.

Nothing in the Sangh Parivar can be taken at face value, as every development and relationship is multi-layered. For instance, at one level, Gadkari is depicted by numerous insiders as the son of the Sangh, the Nagpur-born man who has been associated with the RSS and its affiliates from when he was still a youngster.

On the other hand, there are individuals and groups who are at pains to establish that Gadkari is no longer Nagpur’s favourite prodigy.

This group claims that proof lies in the fact that the sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat has not granted individual audience to Gadkari in the past two years to discuss political matters. Instead, he advises the minister to discuss matters with the executive head or sarkaryavah, ie, Bhaiyyaji Joshi. In contrast, Amit Shah has unhindered access to Bhagwat, and this is emphatically underscored to argue that while Gadkari remains a trusted man, he is not part of any plan.

Also Read : Concerned BJP top brass counsels Gadkari to be restrained

Gadkari’s ‘Gaffes’ Or Calling a Spade a Spade?

Yet again, there are others within the network who claim that there would be some erosion in the BJP's tally as this has not been the most 'friendly' government. These RSS functionaries pointed out that the BJP leadership's rawaiyya or attitude has been arrogant, as Modi and his close aides have begun living in an echo chamber and have begun believing the headlines their spin doctors are dishing out.

On his own, Gadkari does not make decoding his assertions any simpler. A BJP leader, while downplaying the impact of his statements, insisted that Gadkari “has always been an anti-conventional politician. He is someone who has always gone against the tide”. Even by calling a spade a spade?

The leader, although he guffawed at this, contended that Gadkari has always “clarified his assertion and the context in which it was made”. But then Gadkari's explanations have often caused greater damage. For instance, in 2018, when he claimed the BJP made tall promises because they were not confident of winning the elections. He later said this was not made in the context of the parliamentary polls but in the backdrop of the Maharashtra elections. This was still embarrassing as the BJP was established as a party making false pledges.

Gadkari Can Threaten, Gadkari Can Also Offer Lifelines

Unlike several leaders with the propensity of putting their foot in their mouths, Gadkari is suave and calculative. Connections remain vital for him because he is not a mass leader. A master in the jod-tod ki rajneeti or manipulative politics, Gadkari is a different kettle of fish for various people and divergent groups.

As one RSS old-timer says, the ever-hopeful Gadkari is “simultaneously Ajit’s (the Hindi cinema actor who essayed villainous characters) liquid oxygen, liquid as well as oxygen, separately too for everyone including the Sangh.”

The leader explained that at times, Gadkari could be extremely challenging or threatening to an organisation or person, but also had the attribute to offer lifelines. It is this dual ability of Gadkari which gives him a position of strength in the year of political uncertainties. 

His success lies in the capacity to stake a claim without making this obvious. It would indeed be surprising if we do not hear another masala quip from Gadkari in this season of elections.

(The writer is an author and journalist based in Delhi. He has authored the book ‘The Demolition: India at the Crossroads’ and ‘Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times’. He can be reached @NilanjanUdwin. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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