File photo of Nitin Gadkari | Kuni Takahashi/Bloomberg
File photo of Nitin Gadkari | Kuni Takahashi/Bloomberg
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The stars are aligning for the RSS poster boy from Nagpur.

There was the talk of a “160 club” before the 2014 general elections. The idea was that if the BJP won around 160 seats, Narendra Modi’s enemies within the party could deny him the prime ministership.

As Narendra Modi’s chances of winning 272+ seats in 2019 wane in popular perception, the 160 club is back. This time, it has its own prime ministerial candidate: Nitin Jairam Gadkari.

Gadkari’s ambitions have been known for a while. Now, several things are coming together in his favour. Who knows, he could well be India’s next prime minister.

1. Regional parties for Gadkari

Should the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerge as the single largest party significantly short of a majority, the party’s NDA allies will call the shots. None of these allies has any reason to insist on making Narendra Modi the Prime Minister again. Marginalised by the Modi-Shah duo since May 2014, at least some of them may insist on someone else as the PM, especially when the RSS nudges them to. And that choice is being made publicly clear in advance: Nitin Jairam Gadkari.

It is also clear who will be the first NDA ally to make this move: the Shiv Sena. Its vocal MP Sanjay Raut has already more than hinted at this in an article in party mouthpiece Saamana.

Gadkari’s appeal among regional parties is not limited to NDA allies. He has arguably been the most popular minister with the opposition as he maintains good relations with all of them. He has refused to follow the Modi-Shah kind of untouchability and hostility towards political opponents. He has modelled himself around Sharad Pawar, the other PM aspirant from Maharashtra, in developing acceptability across party lines.

As minister for road transport and highways, he has been generous towards the non-BJP, the non-NDA states as well, or so his image goes. “The CM of every state thinks I favour his or her state the most and I’m happy about it,” he said at his 60th birthday function in Nagpur in 2017. No wonder opposition MPs have openly praised Gadkari in the Lok Sabha.


Also read: Nitin Gadkari does what only he can — subtly show Modi-Shah the mirror


2. BJP for Gadkari?

Unhappy with the top-down undemocratic approach of Modi and Shah, many in the BJP would be relieved to have another option.

Project Gadkari is silently giving wings to the disgruntlement among those within the BJP who have found themselves irrelevant in the Modi-Shah era. Former union minister Sangh Priya Gautam may not be a powerful voice, but the marginalised party veteran in Uttar Pradesh has demanded that Gadkari be made deputy PM right away.

A prominent farmers’ leader in Maharashtra, who heads a government body, has also openly demanded that Gadkari be made PM – in writing to RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, no less.

3. RSS for Gadkari

Given Narendra Modi’s rising popularity in 2013 among the RSS and BJP rank and file, the RSS top had no option but to support Modi for PM. But if Modi’s public popularity goes down – and his leadership brings significantly fewer seats than the majority mark – the RSS has no compulsion to back Modi.

For the RSS, Nitin Gadkari is their own son who grew up literally next to the RSS headquarters in Nagpur. The proximity is also about caste – Gadkari is a Maharashtrian Brahmin just like the top RSS leadership. Despite not exactly being a charismatic mass leader, and one who has very little electoral victories in his CV, Gadkari became a minister in Maharashtra in 1995 and the BJP national president in 2010.

The RSS even got the BJP to amend its party constitution to allow Gadkari a second term as the BJP president, but the effort was sabotaged through corruption allegations against him. At the time, Gadkari was engaged in well-known political battles with an assertive Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi. Veteran RSS ideologue M.G. Vaidya had openly blamed Modi.


Also read: Gadkari-for-PM gossip grows legs after his meeting with RSS chief


4. Maharashtrians for Gadkari

No Maharashtrian has ever been a prime minister (Morarji Desai was a Gujarati). The sub-national sentiment that a Maharashtrian should become a PM is so strong that you can hear it from taxi drivers in Mumbai.

This sentiment is also coming together for Nitin Gadkari. India will get a Marathi PM one day, Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray said recently. When asked if he meant Sharad Pawar of rival NCP or Nitin Gadkari of ally BJP, he skirted the question.

The sentiment is so strong that Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis has had to say that India will get more than one Maharashtrian PM by 2050 – perhaps he’s including himself!

5. Big business for Gadkari

They can’t do it openly, but the Gadkari-for-PM buzz is being amplified by business fraternity and industry since Gadkari is being seen as more business-friendly than either Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi. You can tell how much big businesses must like him when he has the guts to openly suggest that Vijay Mallya is no criminal.

The charges against Gadkari are in the realm of all-pervasive political corruption: conflict of interest, shell companies and so on. At least for now, he’s managed to overcome the corrupt image, not least because of the current environment of an economic slowdown where people are more worried about jobs than corruption.

Add to that Gadkari’s reputation as having been among the best performing ministers of the Modi government.

An industrialist himself, Gadkari’s business interests have invited corruption charges, some of which led to his resignation as the BJP chief in 2013. The immediate provocation was corruption allegations by Arvind Kejriwal during the Lokpal movement in 2012. You know how much times have changed when even Kejriwal is praising Gadkari!


Also read: Nitin Gadkari says Modi-led BJP overpromised: Cracks in party or 2019 course-correction?


6. Gadkari for Gadkari

He’s already campaigning. Here are some points he has made in just the last few weeks: intolerance is bad, he likes Nehru’s speeches, the party leadership should accept responsibility for electoral defeats, we must accept there is a farm crisis, while unemployment is the biggest issue facing the country.

“I believe that with appropriate policies we can convert India into a strong economic power. This is the time for appropriate policies and do away with bad governance (sic). I am not talking politically, and in the interest of the democracy and in the interest of the country, we need good leadership,” he said in Mumbai last week.

Check out My543, our comprehensive report card of all Lok Sabha MPs.


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9 COMMENTS

  1. This is a trial balloon floated by a Congress strategist to wean away the disgruntled ‘aspirational’ voters who voted for Modi in 2014. Bjp has a committed voter base of 30-33% in every election. It is the incremental votes that decide the majority and who forms the govt. This article is aimed at the fence sitters who can possibly dislodge Modi. Gadkari is just a sacrificial goat.

  2. yes he is a potential candidate but he still has to prove his popularity with masses and BJP rank and file.
    He does not have much of electoral mass base and what is very clear is if Modi manages something closer to 200 he would be unstoppable.
    Gadkari ‘s chances could brighten if BJP is in vicinity of 150-160 seats which at this point looks very unlikely given the high they had in 2014 and lack of any visible anti-incumbency or undercurrent .

  3. The next election will be fought by the party – and its ideological parent – under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi. If they, of all people, think Minister Nitin Gadkari is a better bet, he should be officially projected as the prime ministerial candidate. This sailing in two boats will lead to a sub optimal outcome. As far as the voting public is concerned, the vote in 2014 was unambiguously in response to the tagline Ab ki Baar, Modi Sarkar. 2019 will be a referendum on five years of its performance. If the internal assessment is that the party may be single largest but upto a hundred seats short, why does anyone assume that Indians still want a second term for a BJP led government. Such an erosion of electoral support would in fact mean, as in MP and Rajasthan – to say nothing of Chhatisgarh – that they have voted for Badlaav. The conventional wisdom in 2014 was that Candidate Modi brought additional votes from aspirational Indians who do not normally vote for his party. The party’s tallest mass leader should not be weakened from within by a sponsored campaign. Address the issue when the situation arises. Or let Minister Gadkari sally forty and recreate the magic of that summer campaign.

  4. No matter who becomes the PM, the same freebies subsidies reservation loan waivers will continue. Even if Adam Smith becomes the PM, the story will be the same.

  5. There is no chance modi will loose whatever modi has done is good for India people understand this. He will come back with thumping majority

  6. hahaha. usual rss ploy. journalists falling for the bait or themselves covertly want bjp to come back to power. rather wish. farcical. it is a carefully crafted strategy by the rss and its apologists in the media to shift attention from the possibility of the bjp govt being replaced by the opposition. And may I remind the votaries of a strong govt : the best progress and relative peace and development were achieved only when coalition govts were at the helm , even during the 2012 global crisis, in which the national party leading the coalition was not in a position to push through its own agenda. All sanghis are the same and to expect that Gadkari will be different or an ideal choice is motivated. VAjpayee liberal Advani hardcore, Modi hardcore Advani liberal, Arun Shourie liberal MOdi haradcore, MOdi hardcore and Gadkari acceptable. People are not fools.

  7. Without even a single administrative experience to Rahul Baba, ThePrint specifically Shivam Vij is ready to accept him as PM….. But proven record of Modi as CM and then as PM has not been acknowledged by ThePrint team that Modi should continue as PM….. And trying every effort to create wedge between leaders of ruling party…. What else is required to prove ThePrint’s biased approach…..

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