The ‘Club of 220’ within the Bharatiya Janata Party is not a myth, despite a denial from Union Minister Nitin Gadkari in an interview with a national daily. But its significance has certainly been reduced; rather, it has vanished after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to take on the terrorists within Pakistan after the Pulwama attack. The Indian Air Force air strike at Balakot has also struck down any possibility of the ‘Club of 220’ hoping to replace Narendra Modi post the Lok Sabha elections.
The ‘Club of 220’ emerged when surveys – both internal and external – predicted that the BJP may end up with far fewer number of seats in the Lok Sabha – around 220. In such a scenario, the allies would have proved difficult to tackle and they would be more demanding. Modi, not being a man who is ready to make adjustments and compromises, may not have been the right choice in such a scenario. It is in this context that the ‘Club of 220’ emerged, with Gadkari’s name at the top.
One should read Gadkari’s statements of those days – pre-Balakot – wherein he took pot-shots at Modi. Knowing Gadkari well, he would have done so only with the tacit prodding by the RSS. He is not ambitious enough to seek power, but will readily accept power handed to him on a plate. He is a hardcore RSS man, ready to serve the party and, above all, a good negotiator having friends across the political spectrum.
Gadkari was quick to dismiss his ‘pot-shots’ at Modi as ‘twists by media.’ But just when things had settled down, Gadkari’s old friend and fellow Maharashtrian, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar stirred a new controversy when he said he was “worried” about the Union Minister and feared for him because he was being projected as a possible alternative to Modi.
Pawar’s statement should be seen against what happened in 2014 when the NCP offered to back the BJP in Maharashtra, provided Gadkari was made the chief minister. The Shiv Sena too was of the same viewpoint.
After the November 2014 assembly elections, Gadkari was ready to become the CM of Maharashtra. But the post was given to Devendra Fadnavis by Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah. It is since that episode that the Shiv Sena has been critical of Modi-Shah.
The logic behind Modi and Shah not giving the CM post to Gadkari was because he was cut for a bigger role in the centre – something that was proven right.
Coming back to 2014 elections, the BJP had secured an absolute majority on its own at the centre winning 282 seats – 10 above the halfway mark of 272. And BJP did not need the support of its allies, though the parties were kept in good humour.
But things are different now. Even post-Balakot air strike, the BJP may not cross the magic figure of 272, thus needing the support of allies. But if the BJP comes close to 272, Modi will be the master and BJP chief Amit Shah will do the backroom job of stitching together an alliance.
But if the numbers are too low, will the ‘Club of 220’ once again resurrect? Very doubtful. The top BJP leaders believe that the RSS and the BJP workers are hardcore Modi fans. The PM is still the poster boy and mascot of the BJP; the RSS too still rates Modi as the best bet.
The ‘Club of 220’ had indeed put some iron in the fire, but post Balakot, the swing is back in favour of Modi who, like in 2014, will lead from the front, blurring the lines between the party and the leader.