Union minister Nitin Gadkari has done it again — this time coming tantalisingly close to needling party chief Amit Shah on the BJP’s recent election reverses.
“If I am the party president and my MLAs are not doing well, my MPs are not performing, then who is responsible?” the leader from Nagpur asked at a lecture on Monday before going on to give the answer himself.
“I am,” he said. “What have I done to groom them?”
Gadkari’s comment — seen as an indirect but intended jibe at Shah over the BJP’s defeats in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh in the latest round of Assembly elections — came days after he said leaders should take responsibility for defeats.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s lips have been sealed over the results, apart from a tweet — “We accept the people’s mandate with humility…” — on December 11, when the votes were counted.
Shah had responded after remaining silent for a week but played down the losses, saying they would have no bearing on the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Many BJP leaders say off the record that Modi and Shah should take responsibility for the defeats the way they take credit when the party wins in states.
Gadkari’s comments on Monday came at an Intelligence Bureau endowment lecture where he was the chief guest. He was replying to a question from the audience — that included serving and retired IAS and IPS officers — about the conduct of new officers and how to bring about change.
Gadkari, minister for road transport and highways, said the success of the home ministry was because of trained IAS and IPS officers. But in case of failure, he added, the person at the top would be questioned. He then went on to cite the example of the party chief.
The minister, however, did not directly refer to the party’s defeats in the three states. At Pune too he didn’t mention the BJP when he addressed a bank association meeting on Saturday. “The loyalty of the leadership towards the organisation will not be proved till the time it owns up responsibility for defeat,” he had said. “Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan, as when there is success, there will be a race to take credit but in case of failure, everybody will start pointing fingers at each other.”
Gadkari had later accused a section of the Opposition and the media of twisting his statements to drive a wedge between him and the BJP leadership.
There were, however, no clarifications after his comments at the IB event. “The minister has not issued any clarification. He had already issued one and even after that the media goes ahead, then what can he do?” an official in Gadkari’s office said.
At the IB event on Monday, Gadkari also invoked independent India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and stressed “tolerance is the biggest asset of our system”.
Gadkari’s comments assume significance, given his standing in the Sangh parivar. The leader is known to be close to the RSS and many in the BJP believe Gadkari had the Sangh’s go-ahead before he spoke. Officially, the BJP refused to react, accusing the media of playing mischief. In private, however, party leaders said Gadkari appeared to be “crossing the Laxman rekha”.