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Gadkari takes over a BJP low on morale
Published on 19 Dec. 2009 11:00 PM IST
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Nitin Gadkari has just been handed a crown of thorns. As he takes charge of India’s main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the 52-year-old finds himself in a post that has failed more than one veteran in the past. Although Gadkari - the outgoing president of Maharashtra BJP - succeeds Rajnath Singh, who never managed to have national clout, the BJP presidency has been in the hands of such political leaders as Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi. With the BJP still reeling from its shock defeat in the May 2009 Lok Sabha elections and subsequent losses in Maharashtra and Haryana, Gadkari will be staring at a party divided into factions. Its millions of members, party sources admit, are a demoralised lot. It is only a marginal consolation that Gadkari belongs to Maharashtra, where the BJP, for the first time, edged past the Shiv Sena in just ended assembly elections. But it failed to unseat the Congress. His first major challenge would be to curb factionalism at the highest level. Party satraps have been at loggerheads in Rajasthan and in the BJP-ruled states of Karnataka and Uttarakhand, denting party’s once cherished image of a unified outfit. Gadkari would have to first politically neutralise the parallel power centres that have emerged in recent years. That will be no easy task. At the state level, there are leaders like Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi whose writ runs large within the party. Then Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and M. Venkaiah Naidu have emerged as power centres with their own loyal constituencies. As a junior, Gadkari may find it difficult to crack the whip. Even Rajnath Singh tried it on several occasions but could not achieve much. “The problem is that there are now so many veteran and senior leaders within the party that Rajnath Singh never got a free hand to run the party. Gadkari might not find himself to be in any different position,” a veteran BJP leader told IANS. “The Lok Sabha defeat followed by defeats in Haryana and Maharashtra have affected morale. Morale has never been so low in the party, not even when we got only two Lok Sabha seats in 1984,” a senior minister in one of the BJP-ruled states added. The BJP has been hit by plenty of storms in recent times. Rajya Sabha veteran Jaswant Singh has been expelled from the party, B.C. Khanduri was asked to give up the post of Uttarakhand chief minister and Vasundhara Raje reluctantly gave up charge as leader of the opposition in Rajasthan. Ironically, Rajnath Singh and Gadkari have many similarities. Rajnath was not considered a mass leader and crowdpuller when he took over as the BJP chief. Gadkari has also been confined to Maharashtra and is not seen as a mass leader. Even in Maharashtra, Gadkari is known as a leader from the Vidarbha region. The outgoing BJP chief was brought to the top post by the party’s ideological patron, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Gadkari too has been catapulted to the hot seat with RSS’ blessings. Both men belong to the upper caste. Gadkari has one major advantage over Rajnath Singh. He enjoys the confidence of Advani who still has a final say in all party matters. Thus, Gadkari could bridge the gap between the RSS and the BJP. Gadkari is known as a good orator with excellent command over Marathi and Hindi. Outside Maharashtra, not many BJP cadres knew his name or could connect with him politically until his name propped up as the new BJP chief a few weeks ago. His lack of political clout could prove to be an advantage or a handicap. A lot depends on Advani and the RSS. Will they give him the full and solid backing to steer the BJP on to the winning track?

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