Insider account of why Narendra Modi cut Nitin Gadkari to size
Whether Nitin Gadkari, recently dropped from BJP’s parliamentary board, returns to the Lok Sabha or not in 2024, his days as a significant national leader could well be numbered
Nitin Gadkari is perhaps among the last gentlemen politicians in the old-fashioned mode left in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He is also the best performing minister the cabinet of Narendra Modi. The two factors combine to make him the most popular leader not just within his party but also among other politicians in the country. And he gets noticed by the general populace, as a recent state of the nation poll by a leading magazine revealed last week.
Add to these the fact that he continues to be the rank favourite of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. So, it is not surprising that despite the fact that Gadkari is not combative and attempts to be conciliatory at all times, despite being the most vocal of ministers in the Union cabinet, he tends to attract the attention of both Modi and other ambitious hopefuls in the party who have always wanted to have him reduced and cut down to size.
Perhaps that is why he was dropped from the parliamentary board of the BJP during the recent reshuffle earlier this week. Modi has inducted Devendra Fadnavis to the party’s central election committee, keeping in mind the caste profile and other factors necessary to maintain equilibrium in these two highest decision-making bodies of the party.
Both Gadkari and Fadnavis hail from Nagpur, are Deshashtha Brahmins who have been dominating the RSS since its inception (as is Mohan Bhagwat), hail from families traditionally rooted in the RSS, speak the same language and hail from the same region.
That said, Gadkari is considered closer to RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat who, while having nothing to object to in Fadnavis, has always believed that Gadkari would make the better CM or indeed, PM. Sources reveal that following the development, Bhagwat has counselled patience to Gadkari who is far younger than Modi and has time on his side.
Gadkari is, after all, the singular BJP leader for whom the RSS compelled the BJP’s top brass at the time to change its party constitution to give an additional two-year term to him as party president. That was in 2013, when BJP was running short of money and Bhagwat believed Gadkari could take LK Advani’s place as leader of the Opposition and groomed to take over as Prime Minister in 2019.
However, according to informed sources in the RSS, they had not contended with Narendra Modi, who used his clout as Gujarat CM to block the flow of funds to the BJP treasury on the pain of squeezing the business interests of the corporate donors and left the party with no choice but to nominate him as their prime ministerial candidate.
Says one RSS ideologue, “We always knew Modi would make the party about himself at the Centre the way he did in Gujarat by reducing and destroying all his peers. We did not want to make him our candidate. But we had no choice. If you remember, the BJP came out with posters saying ‘Ab ki baar, BJP Sarkar’. Modi forced then party president Rajnath Singh to change it to 'ab ki baar, Modi Sarkar'. Now it is all about Modi and Modi alone.”
Not quite. It is also about Gadkari. For even when Modi speaks about a double-engine sarkar in Uttar Pradesh and holds up his own performance as great, say Gadkari supporters, it is Gadkari’s performance as transport and roads minister that is held up for show – there is little performance by any other minister in the Modi cabinet to write home about. And both party men and people know this. That troubles Modi and Amit Shah no end,” says the RSS ideologue.
“So, in one word, I would say ‘jealousy’. Modi is highly jealous of Gadkari’s popularity with both the people inside the party and outside it, the recognition among the people of his performance and his proximity to the RSS and wants to cut him down to size,” says Shyam Pandharipande, who was an RSS ideologue but having seen the shenanigans of the RSS from within, has since gone socialist.
Pandharipande says his family and friends feel Gadkari is too conciliatory towards Modi and does not even challenge the man when he takes the credit for his own achievements. So, Modi should not really fear him as he seems to do.
But Gadkari is also rather loose-tongued and lately had made a statement that politics today had ceased to be the domain of gentlemen, bar a few you could count on your fingers. A close RSS watcher from Nagpur feels that particular statement could have been misinterpreted by Modi to believe that Gadkari was pointing a finger at his own boorish behaviour towards political opponents including women, particularly since Gadkari followed that statement up with another resonating observation that politics today had become solely about personal power and only ten percent of the time for ten percent of the people was it any more about social work or even politics.
“Moreover, he is the only one who takes on Modi at cabinet meetings, pointing out things he considers are wrong for country or people and Modi does not like that one bit, particularly as others are all just yes men, offering no challenge at all to the big man. They just nod their heads and let everything pass,” the RSS observers says.
But that said, RSS ideologues are also convinced that Modi is too clever by far to simply cut off his nose to spite his face. For, it is clear that he is seeking a third term and in anticipation of that, he is preparing to rescind the 75-year age limit he himself had set for retiring inconvenient seniors from politics. However, Gadkari is a decade younger and rather than giving him an opportunity to step into his shoes in 2024, if BJP manages to retain power at the Centre, it is necessary right away to cut him down to size, but not render him completely irrelevant.
“Modi knows very well that if Gadkari is denied a ticket to the next Lok Sabha, the BJP stands to lose not just Nagpur but also 20-25 seats not only from Vidarbha or Maharashtra but even the surrounding regions of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Because it is Gadkari who built these regions up over the years for the BJP. Ditto Shivraj Singh Chauhan (who too has been dropped). So, the excuse is that they have been on the parliamentary board for 22 years and it was time to give an opportunity to other states. Nevertheless, Maharashtra or MP aren’t completely unrepresented and that keeps the RSS satisfied.”
RSS ideologues say Fadnavis will play a major role at the Centre after he ceases to be deputy chief minister of Maharashtra. So, whether Gadkari returns to the Lok Sabha or not in 2024, his days as a significant national leader could be numbered. Not immediately, but eventually, as Modi would rather be seen as the moderate face of the party at which he compares well with Amit Shah or Yogi Adityanath. But both Gadkari and Chauhan, with their performance records, to boost their acceptability are the greater threat in this regard.
Modi is preparing for the long haul and Gadkari, Chauhan and others know it well.
(Views are personal)