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Just who is Nitin Gadkari was a common query when his name first cropped up as next the party president of the BJP. Little known outside his native Maharashtra, Gadkari started in the BJP by literally laying the red carpet for the party bigwigs. The modest bio-data of the mid-level businessman who deals in goods as varied as PVC pipes, saris and furniture includes the fact that he has been winning the graduate seat in the Maharashtra Council since 1989 and was PWD minister in the Maharashtra cabinet for four years. Till now president of the Maharashtra BJP, he managed to blow a near perfect opportunity earlier this year when his party failed to unseat the unpopular incumbent Congress-NCP government, which had been in the saddle for a decade.
In comparison, L.K. Advani's four nominees for the post, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Venkaiah Naidu and Ananth Kumar, seemed decidedly more qualified. They were key players in the party organisation for over two decades, ministers at the Centre during the Vajpayee government, familiar figures in the media and articulate on various issues. They joined the BJP through the route of student politics and JP's anti-Emergency struggle.
But the RSS opted for the relatively unknown and untested Gadkari, who happens to be the boy next door. He lives in Nagpur near the RSS headquarters in the city, and is a full-blooded Maharashtrian Brahmin, as is the RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat. Gadkari is in the mould of the faceless disciplined soldier preferred by the Sangh. Bhagwat has made known that he wants to end personalised politics and does not believe in leaders giving unnecessary sound bites for TV.
With Gadkari's induction, the RSS has moved from the silent manipulator behind the scenes to an unapologetically upfront controller. Unlike his predecessors, Bhagwat is not coy about acknowledging that he hopes to call the shots in the party and his mission is to set the party on the right path. Annoyed with the very public display of infighting within the BJP during Rajnath Singh's tenure, Bhagwat is determined that BJP leaders should not speak in discordant voices. He is wary of intellectuals, especially those not originally from the Sangh stable. This is why Rajnath Singh was able to eject Jaswant Singh so summarily from the party. Bhagwat's vision for the BJP is of a disciplined outfit not corrupted by scandal or sleaze, whose office bearers are comparatively young and relatively anonymous.