Nitin Gadkari: Modi's quiet challenger waiting in the wings

09 April 2019
Even as Narendra Modi has centralised control, running almost all ministries through the prime minister’s office, Gadkari has retained a great deal of autonomy.
PTI
Even as Narendra Modi has centralised control, running almost all ministries through the prime minister’s office, Gadkari has retained a great deal of autonomy.
PTI

In recent years, Nitin Gadkari, the union cabinet minister for roads, has been on the rise. From the relative obscurity of the Maharashtra legislative council, Gadkari won a parliamentary election from Maharashtra’s Nagpur constituency in 2014, which is also home to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s headquarters. He subsequently became the prime minister Narendra Modi’s transport tsar, consolidating most ministerial portfolios pertaining to the field.

For the upcoming Lok Sabha election, the Bharatiya Janata Party has again fielded Gadkari as its candidate from the Nagpur constituency. In “Son of The Sangh,” the cover story from The Caravan’s April 2018 issue, Praveen Donthi found that Gadkari is the RSS’s “favourite son.” This has caused considerable friction with the prime minister, who is known for not abiding parallel power structures.

The following excerpt from Donthi’s story chronicles how Modi stalled both his aspirations to become the chief minister of Maharashtra, as well as his ambitions to reap political capital from his important portfolios. He also reported how Gadkari is one of the only members of the union cabinet who does not fear the wrath of the prime minister, and hopes to succeed him once Modi mania fades away.

On 26 July 2014, two months after Narendra Modi became the prime minister, the Sunday Guardian broke a story that sophisticated listening devices had been found in the official residence of Nitin Gadkari, a minister in Modi’s cabinet. The newspaper, closely aligned with the Bharatiya Janata Party, cited an anonymous source saying that the devices had been planted by US intelligence, and Subramanian Swamy, a member of parliament with the newly ruling BJP, alleged that the bugging had been done under the previous, Congress-led government.

Gadkari himself, in a tweet the next morning, called the story “highly speculative,” but stopped short of dismissing it outright. In parliament, opposition parties called for a probe and a statement from the prime minister, disrupting proceedings for two days. The home minister, Rajnath Singh, denied the story, but this did not dissuade them. It was a strange situation: the opposition was protesting the surveillance of a ruling minister, while members of the ruling party seemed too scared to speak up.

Praveen Donthi  is a staff writer at The Caravan.

Keywords: Elections 2019 Nitin Gadkari Narendra Modi Nagpur Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh Bharatiya Janata Party
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