A trio of young RSS leaders, D. Hosabele, Manmohan Vaidya and Krishna Gopal finally succeeded on 22 January in convincing RSS Sarsanghchalak (Supremo) Mohan Bhagwat to abandon Nitin Gadkari in favour of Rajnath Singh. This is contrary to media reports that claim that Rajnath Singh’s ascension to the post of BJP president was the “victory of the Delhi Group” — L.K. Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley. Key sources within the Sangh Parivar said that the three, “joined by other younger leaders, such as Organiser editor R. Balashankar and RSS spokesperson Ram Madhav, had for months privately opposed the re-nomination of Gadkari” but had been forced to hold their peace “because of the continuing backing of Mohanji” for the portly BJP leader from the RSS headquarters town of Nagpur. However, “the income-tax raids on associates of the Purti Group finally convinced Bhagwat that re-nominating Gadkari would amount to suicide for the BJP in the 2014 national polls.” These sources say that by raiding Gadkari’s business associates “before and not after the 23 January re-nomination” of the then BJP president Gadkari, “the UPA has done the BJP a favour, as post-nomination raids would have been far more embarrassing.”
These sources were not optimistic about the chances of senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha defeating Nitin Gadkari, had there been a contest. “What surprised the RSS leadership was Advani’s stubborn refusal to accept a second term for Gadkari, despite being informed” of Mohan Bhagwat’s support for such a move. The long-time second-in-command of the BJP “warned the RSS that he would publicly condemn the giving of a second term to Gadkari, should this happen”. They see Yashwant Sinha’s apparent bid to contest as being motivated by Advani’s unyielding opposition to a second term for Gadkari. “Advaniji wants to end his career with BJP coming back to power in 2014, and he regarded this to be impossible if Gadkari remained party president,” a BJP leader claimed. However, “had the RSS continued to back Gadkari, it would have been impossible for Sinha to have defeated him”, given the deep roots that the Nagpur-based organisation has within the BJP. The source gave credit to Advani “for putting his entire career on the line” over the Gadkari issue.
RSS sources claim that Madan Das Devi and Suresh Soni favour the individual whose persona and profile most closely matches that of ailing BJP patriarch Atal Behari Vajpayee, which is Arun Jaitley. However, the Rajya Sabha Leader of the Opposition is opposed by most of the RSS hierarchy for his perceived softness towards its Hindutva agenda. A BJP source revealed that Jaitley wanted Venkaiah Naidu to succeed Gadkari, once it became clear that the RSS had changed its mind on Gadkari. However, “Sushmaji ruled out Venkaiah as the replacement”. Other names such as that of Ravi Shankar Prasad and even Uma Bharati were ruled out by the RSS, leaving only Rajnath Singh standing. “Although he dislikes him, Advaniji accepted Rajnath in the interests of saying goodbye to Gadkari,” a senior BJP leader claimed, adding that “in his previous stint as BJP president, Rajnath sought to mend fences with the Delhi Group, and will likely do so this time around as well.” A BJP leader claimed that “only age prevents Advaniji from being the PM candidate of the BJP, and thereby he leaves the field open to Arun Jaitley, who has the same moderate image and coalition skills as Vajpayeeji”. However, Nagpur is unlikely to agree. From the start, the RSS opposed moves during 21-22 January designed to crown Arun Jaitley as the new BJP president, thereby rendering that suggestion a non-starter. In contrast, Sushma Swaraj has earned considerable goodwill within the RSS “for persuading Advani to accept Rajnath” as BJP president.
RSS sources are appreciative of Mohan Bhagwat respecting the strong consensus against Gadkari, despite his own preference for the sitting BJP president, for whom the party had amended its Constitution so as to clear the way for a second term. They say that the “younger group” in the RSS favours a policy which focuses on corruption, including within the BJP, and that Rajnath Singh “will be on notice to perform and to avoid scandal”. Clearly, Nagpur believes that it is still very much in the game, rather than been pushed to the sidelines by the Gadkari fiasco.