Nitin Gadkari has been spared the guillotine — and not because he managed to come clean on the questions surrounding his business empire. Indeed, the Bharatiya Janata Party chief won his reprieve at a time when he seemed less and less able to deflect suggestions of serious financial skulduggery, from conferring directorships of companies on his domestic staff to building a maze of interconnected firms so as to mask the real nature of his dealings. Mr. Gadkari brazened it out when Arvind Kejriwal implicated him in the Maharashtra irrigation scam. In contrast, he has entirely shied away from refuting the second round of charges, which ought to have in fact sealed his fate. And yet when party and parivar met to decide his future, they found their hands tied by the more difficult challenge of finding a successor acceptable to all factions. Besides, showing the door to Mr. Gadkari would have meant accepting the guilt of the party’s senior-most functionary, which would have placed the BJP on the same footing as the inept and scam-tainted Congress. For Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagawat, it was a personal ordeal because Mr. Gadkari was his handpicked choice and he couldn’t have disowned the protégé without also admitting to a grave error of judgment on his own part. Not surprisingly, the stricken Sangh issued a statement lamenting the attempts to besmirch its reputation. It argued that Mr. Gadkari had been put on a media trial.
In truth, the BJP and the Sangh are both deeply divided houses. If the BJP chief has survived in the face of mounting evidence of wrongdoing, it is in part because he is the least unacceptable among a line of contenders for the helmsperson’s job. Of course, Mr. Gadkari has formidable enemies. Narendra Modi demonstrated that he was one when he ordered the removal from a minor party post of Sanjay Joshi, a Gadkari acolyte who shared a bitter past with the Gujarat Chief Minister. Significantly, it is the common fear of Mr. Modi that has fetched Mr. Gadkari the support of at least one strong section of the BJP. Whether this implies a second term for the BJP chief when the first comes to an end this December is difficult to say. Because December is also when the contours of Mr. Modi’s likely future will be revealed to the country. A decisive victory in the Gujarat Assembly election will strengthen Mr. Modi’s claim to lead the BJP into the general election. But any larger role for Mr. Modi will also revive worries around the divisive nature of his politics, setting the BJP more firmly against its current and potential allies.