BJP president Nitin Gadkari late on Friday made it clear he was not going to quit as yet as he appraised top party leaders of the “facts” concerning his firm’s business dealings and agreed to abide by the “party decision”.
Led by LK Advani, the BJP leaders decided to stand by him and wait for the situation to get “clearer”.
“After his having presented himself for a probe, the party is solidly behind him,” spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said after a meeting of the BJP core group. He added that speculation about Gadkari’s resignation offer was wrong and he would proceed to poll-bound Himachal Pradesh for campaigning on Saturday, as scheduled.
HT was first to report that Gadkari was not on his way out, as speculated in several sections of the media.
The core group’s “decision” appeared to be on the lines of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) views — that Gadkari should hold on till a “clearer picture” emerged.
Developments through the day showed confusion in the RSS over the fate of its poster boy while the tussle within the BJP on the issue mounted.
RSS number two Bhayyaji Joshi sought to show the Sangh Parivar did not want to get entangled in Gadkari’s troubles. In a statement, he said, “The Sangh has nothing to do with any of these allegations.”
But in apparent defence of Gadkari, Joshi said: “The allegations have been leveled by sections of the media only and an authorised agency is yet to look into those allegations. That being the situation, it is unfortunate that the discourse on these allegations has turned out more and more political.”
Gadkari’s detractors interpreted this as the beginning of moves to eventually remove the party chief.
They were also boosted by Joshi's remark that it was an "article of faith with the RSS that any individual or organisation indulging in any illegal activity be punished".
A top BJP leader seeking Gadkari's resignation quickly deduced that the RSS had "washed its hands of him".
Curiously, the RSS statement coincided with Gadkari's arrival in Delhi from Nagpur, where he had been closeted with Sangh leaders.
In the Capital, Gadkari was accorded a huge welcome by BJP workers.
Such a reception could not have been possible if the RSS, which is seen to control the affairs of the BJP, had sought his removal.
Supporters claimed Gadkari still had the "benefit of doubt". An RSS leader told HT the charges had not been made by any authorized agency like the CVC or CAG, adding that it was more of a "media trial".
Former BJP chief Rajnath Singh also came out in support of his successor, commending Gadkari for having offered to being probed, saying that no other political leader had done so.
On whether Gadkari would resign, Singh said: "He is neither a parliamentarian nor holding a government post to influence the probe, so why should he resign?"
On the other hand, the anti-Gadkari camp wanted to impress upon the party chief not to campaign in Himachal Pradesh as the party had launched an anti-corruption stir against Congress leader Virbhadra Singh.
They also mooted an idea that Gadkari offer to step down on his own and Advani become "temporary chief" till January. A proper successor could be chosen later.