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EXCLUSIVE! How Nitin Gadkari bowed out

By A Correspondent
Last updated on: January 25, 2013 14:02 IST
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The story of how Rajnath Singh was named BJP president is nothing short of a potboiler.

Believe it or not, the BlackBerrys, iPhones and Nokia phones of the saffron family were on hyper drive to settle the deadlock between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh over the next BJP president's selection.

Whether Nitin Gadkari should be given a second term as BJP president or a new president be appointed was decided via many telephonic exchanges.

The decision -- that will have a far reaching impact on the BJP's performance in the next Lok Sabha election -- was born out of crisis and not by cold-headed deliberations in the Sangh Parivar.

The Sangh Parivar leadership finalised Rajnath Singh's name as the new BJP president via hectic to-and-fro cell phone conversations -- often on speaker phone -- between party leaders in New Delhi and Mumbai, and the Nagpur-based RSS supremo, Mohan Bhagwat.

Finally, Bhagwat called Gadkari and asked him to resign, while Suresh Soni, another senior RSS leader, asked Rajnath Singh to accept the BJP president's post.

Interesting details emerging from the BJP headquarters reveal how the RSS and BJP conducted the negotiations, bargained hard and struck a deal that looked like a win-win situation for both organisations.

However, some leaders claim Bhagwat was tricked into agreeing to Rajnath Singh's name while dumping Gadkari.

By January 20, it seemed that Bhagwat would not agree to anyone else, but Gadkari.

A dozen names were tossed up by the BJP leadership in New Delhi. These included leaders ranging from Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar to the party's articulate spokesperson, Ravi Shankar Prasad.

Delhi-based BJP leaders, who were opposed to Gadkari, hit the nail in the coffin when news television channels flashed the news about the BJP president's associates being surveyed and raided by income tax officials who had visited Mumbai companies that had invested in the Purti Group, which Gadkari founded in 2000.

Finance Minister P Chidambaram, under whose portfolio the income tax department operates, has a way of doing things, RSS leaders felt.

They believed Chidambaram would target Gadkari further in coming days due to Tamil Nadu politics, reveals an individual well-versed with the Sangh Parivar's internal affairs.

The RSS feared that attempts by S Gurumurthy, the well-known chartered accountant and RSS ideologue, to give Gadkari a clean chit would be strongly countered by Chidambaram.

The resulting clash would have put pressure on the BJP, who would be left defending its president all the time, RSS leaders felt.

It was a crisis-like situation on Tuesday, January 22.

Gadkari and veteran party leader L K Advani were both in Mumbai attending an event.

The smart plotters behind the Refuse Gadkari A Second Term operation were in New Delhi.

Advani wanted to meet the group at the earliest to take control of the situation. He wanted to bring about a turnaround, get Gadkari out, and install a leader of his choice. But his flight from Mumbai was delayed.

On January 22 evening, a few BJP leaders met at the party's national headquarters at 11, Ashok Road in New Delhi. But to fool the media and avoid premature leaks of their activities, four leaders met at Arun Jaitley's home at 48, Todarmal Road, barely a kilometre away from the BJP HQ.

Jaitley's staff directed Sushma Swaraj, M Venkaiah Naidu and Suresh Soni's drivers to avoid the media and park their cars away from his house.

It was a eleventh hour meeting before the poll process commenced the next day to elect Gadkari. Jaitley and the others were constantly speaking to leaders in Mumbai and to RSS Sarsanghchalak Bhagwat.

The political manoeuvrings, calculations and personal choices were in full swing as the group worked against both Advani and Bhagwat's favoured candidates.

A crisis brewed each time a name was proposed, rejected or simply avoided. A lot of heartburn preceded the consensus on Rajnath Singh's nomination for the BJP presidency.

Advani went to the extent of suggesting 88-year-old Balram Tandon as BJP president, then raised Uma Bharti's name; the veteran leader went on to suggest former Union petroleum minister Ram Naik, Ravi Shankar Prasad, former Uttarakhand chief minister Major General B C Khanduri (retd) and former Union minister Shanta Kumar as Gadkari's successors.

It was evident that Advani's writ no longer ran in the party which he had dominated for more than twenty years. For most of the time, other leaders avoided his arguments, suggestions and logic.

At one point, a senior BJP leader contacted Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and put the phone on speaker mode to have a teleconference.

Modi suggested two names -- Arun Jaitley and former Himachal Pradesh chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal. They were Modi's choices to lead the BJP in the next general election.

Venkaiah Naidu too favoured Jaitley and repeatedly suggested his name.

In these games of proposing, opposing and circumventing names, time was a crucial factor.

After many rounds, Sushma Swaraj suggested Advani's name. Advani finally came out, supporting Swaraj.

In all, at least 12 to 15 names were considered, debated and rejected.

RSS leader Suresh Soni was fully involved in the selection process and in touch with the Sangh HQ in Nagpur.

Leaders, privy to the proceedings at 48, Todarmal Road, swear that the instructions from the RSS leaders based in New Delhi were clear -- let the BJP leaders give one final name and Nagpur would accept it.

Since Jaitley and Swaraj were rejecting each other's names, the political game turned a full circle. The duo finally homed in on Rajnath Singh.

Swaraj told Soni that Singh was their final choice.

By 10.30 pm, the media got a whiff of the meeting and arrived at Todarmal Road.

The leaders drew out a plan to handle the media, in a series of public and private actions.

Venkaiah Naidu saw to it that Gadkari was given a decent farewell at the BJP central parliamentary board meeting.

Bhagwat had the most difficult task. He asked Gadkari to resign at around 7.30 pm on January 22. Gadkari called Jaitley to draft a resignation letter.

None of these stalwarts can type. Jaitley's daughter Sonali then typed Gadkari's resignation letter and e-mailed it to Mumbai.

Gadkari's assistant took a printout on the BJP president's letterhead and faxed it to the BJP headquarters in New Delhi.

The political drama concluded at 9:30 pm on Tuesday when Rajnath Singh was declared the next BJP president.

As soon as the news broke, BJP leaders Ananth Kumar and Rajiv Pratap Rudy started courting Rajnath Singh.

While Rudy -- who lost the last Lok Sabha election in Chhapra, Bihar, to Lalu Yadav -- put forward his Kshatriya caste credentials, Ananth Kumar ensured that Rajnath Singh would not bring back B S Yeddyurappa, his arch-rival in Karnataka politics.

Naidu stayed awake till 2 am to manage the protocol and ensure that Rajnath Singh's nomination papers were filed before Chief Electoral Officer Tawar Chand Gehlot.

The following day, some BJP leaders, conscious of 'Rahu Kalam' (the inauspicious time among Hindus) quickly asked Ananth Kumar to announce Rajnath Singh's name as the presidential candidate before 12:30 pm.

On Wednesday, after Rajnath Singh was elected BJP president, it was more a sigh of relief for party leaders in New Delhi than the RSS leadership in Nagpur.

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