There was the declamation of a “160 club” prior to the 2014 general elections. The plan was that if the BJP won around 160 seats, Narendra Modi’s antagonists within the party could deny him the PM’s post.
As Narendra Modi’s chances of winning 272+ seats in 2019 disappeared in popular perception, the 160 club has returned. This time, it has its own prime ministerial candidate: Nitin Jairam Gadkari.
Gadkari’s aspiration have been known for a while. Now, several things are coming together in his goodwill. Who knows, he could well be next PM of India.
Regional parties for Gadkari
None of the allies have any reason to affirm on making Narendra Modi the PM again. Insignified by the Modi-Shah duo since May 2014, a few of them may persuade 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 coherent who will be the 1st NDA ally to make this move: the Shiv Sena.
Gadkari’s request among regional parties is not limited to NDA allies. He has possibly been the most popular minister with the opposition as he maintains a cordial relations with all other. 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 wannabee from Maharashtra, in developing acceptability across party lines.
BJP for Gadkari?
Dejected with the top-down undemocratic attitude of Modi and Shah, many in the BJP would be grateful to have another option.
An eminent farmers’ head in Maharashtra, who heads a government body, has too openly demanded that Gadkari be made PM – in writing to RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, no less.
RSS for Gadkari
Given Narendra Modi’s rising popularity in 2013 among the RSS and BJP rank and file, the RSS top was left with no choice but to support Modi for PM. But if Modi’s public image 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 son who grew up literally next to the RSS headquarters in Nagpur. The closeness is also about caste – Gadkari is a Maharashtrian Brahmin just like the top RSS leadership. Inspite of 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.
Maharashtrians for Gadkari
The sub-national sentiment that a Maharashtrian should become a PM is immense 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.
Big business for Gadkari
They can’t do it openly, but the Gadkari-for-PM buzz is being escalated by business industry since Gadkari is being seen as more business-friendly than Narendra Modi. You can tell how much big businesses must like him when he has the guts to openly suggest that Vijay Mallya is no criminal.
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.
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, and we must accept there is a farm crisis, while unemployment is the biggest issue facing the country.