With friends like RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, BJP president Nitin Gadkari doesn’t really need any enemies. As Mr Gadkari begins his second innings in the top job, a post the RSS handed to him, he hardly seems in control of the party.
First, key ally and JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar has come out all guns blazing against the possible candidature of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi as prime minister in the next elections. He has openly asked for a ‘clean and secular’ face for a potential National Democratic Alliance (NDA) prime minister. He has gone as far as to say that the NDA would not have lost power had the former prime minister AB Vajpayee sacked the Modi government following the Gujarat riots. While Mr Modi has not reacted to this, it must be deeply shocking to both him and the party that Mr Vajpayee’s former aide Brajesh Mishra has also publicly said that the former prime minister had indeed wanted to sack Mr Modi but did not want to overrule the party.
So it is unfortunate that at this juncture, the RSS chief has come out asking why a Hindutva face should not run the country. It is rare that the RSS so openly involves itself in politics, given that it has always maintained that it is a cultural organisation.
It is, however, no secret that it calls the shots when it comes to the party posts. However, given that the Indian Constitution is a secular one, it is not appropriate for anyone to talk of a Hindutva face. The Hindutva card was used to great advantage at one time. Now it seems to be one of diminishing returns. It is also one which will make the NDA’s allies deeply uncomfortable. The RSS has done the party a singular disservice by raising this issue. The concept of a Hindutva proponent for the top job has not got the endorsement of anyone in the top BJP leadership in the past.
Mr Bhagwat has put Mr Gadkari in a bind since the latter owes his position to the RSS but at the same time also cannot be seen to endorse its views publicly. Following the rapprochement with Mr Modi during the BJP’s recent executive meet, Mr Gadkari would have been hoping for a breather. But then with the controversy over the exit of Sanjay Joshi from the party, that was not to be.
The crisis of leadership in the BJP has meant that it has hardly been able to play its role as the principal opposition party. There are several issues on which it could have tripped up the government. It has not been able to do so effectively. It is now up to Mr Gadkari to step up to the plate and show who is really in command of the party.