Nitin Gadkari: Frank, free, often politically incorrect
Over the years, there were many nuggets of plain-speak from Gadkari, including one on Uddhav Thackeray which clued me in to the BJP’s intention to sever ties with the Shiv Sena long before it actually happened.mumbai Updated: Aug 08, 2018 22:40 IST
Union minister Nitin Gadkari has always been a politician of the old-fashioned mould. For years, despite belonging to the always secretive BJP, he has been a free and frank speaker, and more often than not, politically incorrect.
Years ago he invited me over to his flat in Worli to assure me why he was right in resisting giving party tickets or posts to Rahul Mahajan, the son of the late BJP general secretary Pramod Mahajan.
The BJP was then headed by the highly prim and proper, well, oldies like LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi who had disapproved of the fact that Rahul wore jeans to his father’s funeral and worse, a few days later was snorting coke and drinking champagne the night before the immersion of the ashes in a holy river. Mahajan’s secretary, who was bingeing along with Rahul, died of an overdose; Rahul himself barely managed to survive.
“Come and see for yourself something worse,” Gadkari said at the time. Rahul was occupying his father’s flat above Gadkari’s who was subjected to a continuous procession of skimpily-clad young girls making a beeline for the night-long parties above. Sometimes they wandered to his door below in various states of drunkenness and invariably the boisterous parties ended in crack-of-dawn brawls with the watchman having to intervene.
Gadkari, as an old-fashioned politician, was highly scandalised and told me flatly, “This kind of behaviour does not sit well with a party like the BJP. Can you imagine the loss of face if this ever makes the headlines?”
Ironically, I was a headline writer and not very sympathetic to the BJP, but Gadkari trusted whatever I learned that day wouldn’t be used to embarrass him or his party. My editor and I decided we could not betray that trust but it helped us understand why the party chose to give posts and tickets to Rahul Mahajan’s sister instead of him – she would never embarrass them with sordid acts like her brother.
Over the years, there were many nuggets of plain-speak from Gadkari, including one on Uddhav Thackeray which clued me in to the BJP’s intention to sever ties with the Shiv Sena long before it actually happened. It was not merely Narendra Modi’s advent and astonishing victory at the 2014 Lok Sabha elections that led to the break-up. Unable to act against the wishes of older leaders like Advani, the younger ones like Gadkari and Gopinath Munde had been waiting patiently for Bal Thackeray’s influence over the masses to decline before divorcing the Shiv Sena - not just because of Thackeray’s tantrums and his son’s alleged inability to understand politics, but because the alliance was bringing diminishing returns to the BJP and restricting its growth. Thackeray’s death and Modi’s overwhelming campaigning skills only speeded up the process.
He also gave me insights into Gujarat long before people had ceased to be in awe of the state, and was also frank about the over-veneration of the cow long before cow vigilantism became the order of the day in the country.
Many critics believe Gadkari’s frankness comes from his proximity to the RSS and the resultant fearlessness about any possible reprimand. However, I believe he has been more influenced by other Maharashtra leaders, particularly Sharad Pawar who had in the past, called a spade a spade, even if he was not been able to articulate himself too well in languages other than his mother tongue and got into controversies as a result.
On occasion, Gadkari has gone overboard like when talking about “kicking bureaucrats into action” – it sounds much worse in Hindi: laat maar kar kaam karaunga; or when he indiscreetly gave away some secrets like the one about a yesteryear film star lobbying for a Padma award.
But now he is giving away no confidences by asking about the availability of jobs in this country to merit reservations. He has been unnecessarily pilloried by the Opposition which has been full of sarcasm in thanking him for speaking the truth.
But, knowing Gadkari, I can say he is one BJP politician unafraid of speaking the truth. It may not have been just an inadvertent slip of the tongue but a frank and true statement of fact, even if politically incorrect – something he believed in and was unafraid to articulate. The country would be in much less trouble today if there were more refreshing and fearless admissions of facts like Gadkari’s, by other more tightly-wound ministers who prefer to bury their head in the sand and hope the storm will pass them – and the rest of India – by.
First Published: Aug 08, 2018 22:39 IST