In a sign of fast-changing dynamics within the Hindu right, senior BJP leader LK Advani broke his silence to give nuanced support to beleaguered party chief and RSS favourite Nitin Gadkari. The RSS is known to be opposed to the PM candidature of Advani in the 2014 elections, when he will be 86.
Advani, who had maintained a studied silence on Gadkari, accused of irregular business dealings, said in a statement the BJP chief was the victim of a conspiracy: a UPA strategy to “paint the entire political class with the same brush to minimise and escape its unpardonable sins... This is more to neutralise the unprecedented charges against the ruling UPA”.
Advani said the allegations were about standards of business and not misuse of power or corruption, and added that Gadkari's response of asking for a government inquiry was “fair and proper”.
BJP insiders said Advani's often-troubled relationship with the RSS, the BJP’s ideological patron, could improve substantially thanks to his defence of Gadkari. Also, support for Gadkari from Advani and Sushma Swaraj, leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, could mean a delay in Gujarat CM Narendra Modi’s advent at the Centre — an event feared by many as spelling their eclipse.
The octogenarian leader’s statement came after RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat offered no open support for Gadkari in his Vijayadasami address at Nagpur on Wednesday in the presence of the BJP chief. In fact, he strongly backed ongoing anti-corruption movements, though he warned against an Indian Arab Spring which he said would encourage anarchy and “fundamentalist” forces.
He said the Gadkari issue was an internal matter of the BJP.
Spokesperson Manmohan Vaidya made it clear that RSS had not asked any explanation from Gadkari, who attended the event in full RSS uniform of black cap, white shirt and khaki shorts, and refused to comment. Vaidya said allegations against Gadkari "seem like a media trial".
The BJP is torn between those who reportedly believe that Gadkari's continuation as party chief will be a liability and those who feel replacing him now will be disruptive. He was handpicked by the RSS in 2010 to lead the BJP and is due to start a second term early next year, again thanks to RSS backing.
Swaraj posted on micro-blogging site Twitter: "It is unjust and unfair to accept these allegations as true without a probe. We the members of BJP trust our president and stand firmly behind him."
Her counterpart in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, reiterated what he had said at a press conference in Shimla a day earlier.
"Our party president has already taken correct steps to express his readiness to face a probe by any agency," Jaitley was quoted by PTI as saying.
Gadkari's troubles began when activist-turned-politician Arvind Kejriwal accused him of corruption and conflict of interest in his roles as politician and businessman.
Later media reports accused his firm of receiving investment through shell companies. Gadkari stoutly denied the charges. Corporate affairs minister Veerappa Moily said on Tuesday a "discreet probe" had been ordered.