Nitin Gadkari to continue as BJP president, but second term at risk

New Delhi (TIP): BJP president Nitin Gadkari, confronting corruption charges, will remain in office for now despite corruption charges. He left for Himachal Pradesh today after the party allowed him to proceed with his scheduled campaign trail in the state ahead of next month’s elections.

Mr Gadkari arrived in Delhi on Friday evening from Nagpur and met privately with the BJP’s senior most leader, LK Advani. He then met with other colleagues like Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley.

“The party is unanimous in backing him,” said spokesperson Prakash Javadekar late after the meetings ended. Mr Gadkari was praised for his willingness to accept an enquiry into his business dealings. Sources in the party say that he did not offer to resign. His term as president expires in December.

Over the last week, allegations of financial malpractices by his businesses have engulfed Mr Gadkari. But the BJP has calculated that if he is removed now, it may appear as an admission of guilt or distract voters in the forthcoming elections in states like Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. Selecting a replacement would also be messy – the party is finding it difficult to decide who to pick as its candidate for prime minister ahead of the general elections in 2014; there are many fractious contenders.

But while his party is backing him for now, the chances of a second term as president for Mr Gadkari are quickly dissipating.

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He had reportedly been asked by the BJP’s parent body, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS to explain the charges against him to senior colleagues.

In a statement earlier on Friday evening, the RSS suggested its support for Mr Gadkari has ebbed substantially. “It has been an article of faith with the RSS that any individual or organization in any illegal activity must be subjected to impartial probe,” the RSS said in an emailed statement today. “We are saddened with efforts to drag the RSS name into these allegations,” it said, stressing that the charges have not been investigated by an authorized agency.

By striding away from the controversy, the RSS has reinvigorated its frisson with the BJP. In 2009, the RSS conferred presidency upon Mr Gadkari against the wishes of senior BJP leaders like LK Advani. Just last month, the BJP’s rules were amended, again under considerable pressure from the RSS, to allow Mr Gadkari a second consecutive term as president, a move that may soon be aborted.

The shadowy credentials of his vast business empire, and the companies that have invested in it, were first reported on NDTV last weekend. Mr Gadkari had appeared in its studio to counter charges of ghost investors in Purti Power and Sugar Limited, co-founded by him in 2000. He quit as its chairman last year and now holds about 200 shares in the company.

Since then, a series of reports have exhumed other insalubrious details. Some of the companies that have bought equity in Purti share bogus addresses; their directors have included his former driver, an astrologer and a baker. Yesterday, another NDTV expose highlighted that a firm that bought stake in Purti was, a year later, loaned money by Mr Gadkari and his firm, a tactic normally used for money-laundering and round-tripping, which involves selling an asset with the understanding that it will be bought back, often used for tax evasion.

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