Gadkari: RSS’ blue-eyed boy is back with vigour

Mumbai :  Nitin Gadkari, who was on Monday inducted as a cabinet minister in the Narendra Modi government, is an entrepreneur and a political activist who as party president steadied the BJP after its defeat in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.

Gadkari, 56, is regarded close to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological mentor of the Bharatiya Janata Party. He is the second former party chief to find a berth in Modi’s cabinet after M. Venkaiah Naidu.  A former minister in Maharashtra, Gadkari was brought to BJP’s centre stage as part of a well thought-out move to push forward younger leadership after the 2009 Lok Sabha polls when the party registered its second consecutive defeat.

When in end-2009 he came to Delhi as party president, Gadkari was unknown in the corridors of power in the capital and sought to adopt a consultative approach in running the party.   His term faced challenges particularly those relating to the BJP’s first government in Karnataka, but Gadkari sought to ride through difficulties by seeking views of those more experienced than him.   He faced controversy over alleged financial dealings relating to a business group he was associated with. Though Gadkari stoutly denied the charges and had backing of sections in the party, he had to make way for Rajnath Singh as president due to a feeling that the party should not lose out on public perception in the wake of unrelenting attacks by the opposition.

Gadkari successfully contested the Lok Sabha election from Nagpur, the city where the RSS headquarters are based.   He was associated with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the RSS, during his student days.  As state PWD minister in Maharashtra between 1995 and 1999, Gadkari is credited with improving the state’s road infrastructure.  He overcame bureaucratic hurdles to complete projects like the Mumbai-Pune Expressway and 55 flyover bridges in Mumbai at a cost way below the original estimates.

Once liked by the Thackeray family, Gadkari’s name recently brought the BJP’s alliance with the Shiv Sena to a breaking point, when he favoured inclusion of Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena into the NDA.  Acknowledged as a “corporate-friendly” politician, Gadkari shuns the traditional get-up of politicians — the kurta-payjama — and wears regular loose shirts and baggies, and in recent times has started donning a waist jacket.

His tenure as the youngest BJP chief is remembered for the lavish wedding of his son. It was attended by over one lakh people, besides around 15,000 VIPs.

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