Sangh clears Gadkari air, thrice over

Radhika Ramaseshan

New Delhi, Nov. 2: The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has denied "going soft" on Nitin Gadkari, stressing that it is up to the BJP to decide his fate and that the Sangh will not "interfere".

This is the third time in less than a fortnight that the Sangh has been forced to distance itself from the BJP president, widely seen as the parent organisation's man in the political offspring. Sources said Sangh and BJP cadres were "confused" by the Sangh's "ambivalent" stand on Gadkari.

"Gadkari is a swayamsevak (Sangh member). There can be internal discussions on the issue. Decisions on BJP matters are taken only by them (the party). We do not interfere," a Sangh release quoted joint general secretary Dattatreya Hosabole as telling reporters in Chennai today.

Hosabole was briefing the media about the Sangh's national executive meeting in the southern metropolis.

To another query on a "land grab" charge against Gadkari, Hosabole said: "Why single out Gadkari? We are not going soft on anyone. There will be no different yardsticks. Public morality and national integrity are supreme."

Gadkari had been plucked out of Maharashtra and installed as BJP president at the behest of Sangh chief Mohanrao Bhagwat. His tenure ends next month and he appears unlikely to get a second term because of the corruption charges against him.

Sources said the Gadkari controversy was discussed by the Sangh's 23-member core group, which includes Bhagwat, his second-in-command Suresh Joshi, deputies Hosabole, Suresh Soni, Krishna Gopal and K.C. Kannan, publicity cell chief Manmohan Vaidya and spokesperson Ram Madhav.

Although a Sangh lobby is still "keen" to retain Gadkari, sources said most core group members believed that the wide media coverage of the allegations against him had damaged the Sangh and, to a larger extent, the BJP in the public perception.

A Sangh insider dismissed the idea that Bhagwat was continuing to patronise Gadkari.

"When it comes to choosing between values and an individual, Mohanrao will go for the former. Perhaps he feels that the official probe (into the charges against Gadkari) must be completed before action is taken," the source said.

Most BJP leaders feel that Gadkari should step down soon, possibly before the winter session of Parliament, which begins in the third week of November. The only exceptions are a couple of senior leaders who believe that a "sudden" exit by Gadkari would reopen factional fault-lines and pave the way for the ascendance of Arun Jaitley and Narendra Modi.

A source argued that Gadkari himself should have offered to quit and "receded" into the background.

"Instead of that, he campaigned in Himachal and spoilt our prospects. Because of local pressure, he did not return to campaign. His upfront attitude won't be possible without the Sangh's blessings," a source said.

Gadkari today met the Bangladesh Opposition leader, Begum Khaleda Zia.

Asked why former Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa was told to quit after being charged in a land scandal while Gadkari was being given a long rope, Hosabole said: "Yeddyurappa had to step down after a Lokayukta probe. It is only media allegations in the case of Gadkari. In Yeddyurappa's case, it is the party that decided he should step down."