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This article was first published 2 years ago  » News » Why Gadkari Needs to be Heard

Why Gadkari Needs to be Heard

August 26, 2021 08:47 IST
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Nitin Gadkari has a message as much for his party as much purportedly it is for the Opposition.
Listening to him, whatever be his reasons and motives, will help, says N Sathiya Moorthy.


At a media house function in New Delhi, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari called upon all political parties 'introspect'.

He went on to declare that Jawaharlal Nehru and Atal Bihari Vajpayee were 'ideal leaders'.

It was the first time that a senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's time was hailing Nehru. It was also possibly the first time that a BJP leader was remembering Vajpayee other than on his birth and death anniversaries.

If Gadkari's observations did not reach the intended audience, that was because the mainline media and the social media were preoccupied with Afghanistan. They still are. His party leadership is not known for projecting multiplicity of views and multitude of ideas for their social media handlers to give Gadkari's observations a wide reach.

For the party, truth hurts. Greater the truth, greater the hurt.

It is possible Gadkari's statement is not altruist. Whether or not he harbours personal ambitions, his inconvenient statements ahead of the Lok Sabha polls of 2014 and 2019 did give the impression that he (too) was angling for the prime minister's job.

On both occasions, he was seen as a 'compromise candidate' if the BJP-NDA could not cross the 'magic figure' of 272 Lok Sabha seats. On both occasions, the 'Modi magic' worked overwhelmingly, and the question of an alternative prime ministerial candidate did not arise at all.

Gadkari's speech came in the context of a whole parliamentary session getting washed out in the Opposition ruckus in both Houses. Unlike his party colleagues, Gadkari did not stop with accusing only the multi-party Opposition. Though not overtly, by implication he indicated that the ruling party too has to change its style of functioning.

It begins with Vice President and Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu. He shed real tears over the repeated disruption of the house. Now a non-partisan, non-party person, Naidu forgot his own conduct, along with those of his erstwhile BJP colleagues in both houses of Parliament before Vajpayee became prime minister for a second and more memorable third term (1998-2004).

Unlike the present day, they were all minority governments. At times, they felt wary of engaging the Opposition in a serious debate, maybe. But not the Modi government, which has a brutal majority especially in the Lok Sabha. Letting the Opposition have its say and the government having its way is the prudent way out, under the circumstances.

Jawaharlal Nehru's image as a true democrat may have owed also to similar realities of his time. Still, he had to suffer constant pinpricks from ginger groups within the ruling Congress party.

In her time, Indira Gandhi had the Young Turks from within the party lending greater credibility to the Opposition's multiple charges. So when the Emergency was proclaimed, Congress MPs Chandra Shekhar, Mohan Dharia, Krishan Kant and Lakshmikanthamma too were incarcerated.

This time, the Opposition's demands were centred on the three controversial farm laws, Pegasus spyware and the like. Some of them see their floor unity on these and other issues in this session and in the future ones as the beginning of a combined fight against the ruling dispensation in the Lok Sabha polls that is not anywhere close.

Does it mean that they are going to stall all sessions, between now and the Lok Sabha polls that are due only in the first half of 2024 -- especially if the government does not yield on any occasion?

By protesting too loudly and too frequently, the Opposition is not serving their 'united' cause. Anyway, there are issues on which individual Opposition parties have different views. It won't take the government too long to field such issues in Parliament, making some of them quiver from within and some others to break the formation and join the proceedings 'this one time'.

No overarching issue has inherent traction even with traditional pro-democracy, anti-Hindutva sections of the population. But democracy as an overarching issue, with multiple elements thrown out in succession through weeks and months, characterises a government for the non-committed sections of the population.

The voter turns turtle when he begins asking the question: 'What after free housing and cooking gas?' More of the same loses its charm after a point. It has happened in the past, both at the national and state-levels.

Political parties, especially those in power, are yet to comprehend this chemical change that is happening within the voter-mind all the time. The ruling BJP in 2004 and the Congress in 2014 are standing examples within the 21st century past.

The unyielding toughness of the BJP on what still will end up as a procedural matter, that too when the Opposition does not have the numbers, is a reflection of a certain mindset, a particular political behaviour. It implies an unnecessary apprehension that the ruling party is already afraid of a united Opposition, which is still easier said than done.

Come 2022, and assembly polls in seven states, including Uttar Pradesh (80 Lok Sabha seats), Maharashtra (48) and the Modi-Shah combo's native Gujarat (26) not to leave out Congress-ruled Punjab (13) is going to expose Opposition unity more than the BJP could do now, and in different ways.

If Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath sweeps UP for the BJP, then the guessing game about his Lok Sabha poll ambitions in 2024 too will become a matter of speculation all over again.

The very possibility made the Modi-Shah duo to try upstage Adityanath earlier this year. Though not acknowledged, they beat one of their few hasty retreats sooner and hailed Adityanath as the best man for UP. It was assuaging the CM's hurt feelings, caused by their out-of-turn interference in the internal affairs of the state BJP.

In turn, both the hurt and the later backtracking by the BJP's 'Big Two' may have also fuelled the already hidden ambitions of Adityanath who can play along until after the assembly polls. He has the precedent set by Modi, who waited in the wings as Gujarat CM as long as it took, before laying low mentor-defender Lal Kishenchand Advani with an upper cut.

But 2024 is not 2014, and Adityanath, and certainly Gadkari, is not Narendra Modi. Even if Adityanath won UP and Gadkari his native Maharashtra (where he may be a BJP nobody) for the party next year, they are no match for the 'Modi magic', which still sells the best for any party or leader, across the country.

Yet, by denying the Opposition and also independent media their place in parliamentary democracy, the BJP leadership is sending out a wrong message to those outside the continued influence of their 'Hindutva' halo. It may include the Ayodhya temple that is being readied for elections 2024.

It definitely includes the nervousness about the distant possibility of Adityanath, if not Gadkari, throwing his hat in the ring.

Of the two, much of the rest of India does not know the UP chief minister one way or the other -- not certainly as much a 'defender of the faith and of the nation' as Modi is. That Gadkari is a former national president of the BJP is not lost even on his party cadres, beginning with his native Maharashtra.

Yet, Gadkari has a message as much for his party as much purportedly it is for the Opposition. Listening to him, whatever be his reasons and motives, will help. But no one seems to be hearing him to begin with, for them to listen.

That includes the Opposition, from which not a single voice has risen, quoting Gadkari to his BJP leadership.

N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist, political analyst and author, is Distinguished Fellow and Head-Chennai Initiative, Observer Research Foundation.

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