The Bharatiya Janata Party’s Nitin Gadkari was destiny’s blue-eyed boy — or so it had appeared until Rajnath Singh, in the predatory manner of an eagle swooping down on its prey, snatched away the helmsman’s prize. Mr. Gadkari was hoping to make history as the first BJP chief to have earned a second consecutive three-year term via an amendment to the party’s constitution. Instead he has made history as the first party chief to have been ousted minutes away from winning a second term. Party and pundits alike had assumed that the contest was over, bar the shouting. Indeed, the outgoing chief led a charmed life, surviving not just serious charges of financial wrongdoing but multiple internal mutinies targeted at securing his exit ahead of the election for the top party post. But all the malcontents put together could not budge the chief from his place for the simple reason that he existed at the pleasure of the BJP’s command centre at Delhi’s Jhandewalan. A baffling bond held together Mr. Gadkari and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The outgoing BJP chief was hardly the quintessential sangh ideologue. He did not flaunt his nationalist credentials or declaim with passion on Hindutva. Nor did he fit the other sangh ideals of personal austerity and probity.
On the contrary, Mr. Gadkari seemed to subscribe to an entrepreneurial model that was liberal in its interpretation of business ethics. As much was proved when the full extent of the Purti Group’s dealings, complete with dubious crossholdings and funding patterns, was revealed. The end was precipitated by income tax raids on Mr. Gadkari’s network of companies hours before his re-election. The moment was naturally seized by Mr. Gadkari’s opponents, some of whom had tried to force the issue by threatening to contest against him. The months ahead will be as much a test for Mr. Rajnath Singh as it will be for the RSS, which in a desperate attempt to show its authority, vetoed Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley for the party post. Obviously Mr. Singh, with his proven loyalty to the sangh, was preferable to those with bigger reputations. In an earlier presidential stint, Mr. Singh had replaced Lal Krishna Advani who was shown the door as punishment for praising Mohammad Ali Jinnah. For all that the Gadkari chapter has ended, the story is only half complete. The BJP’s real challenge will come later when it decides its Prime Ministerial candidate conscious of the fact that the line of aspirants will be led by the divisive figure of Narendra Modi. The Gujarat Chief Minister has a frenzied following among the parivar’s rank and file but he is also ambitious and authoritarian and comes with baggage that cannot augur well for the expansion of the National Democratic Alliance.