New Delhi : The RSS on Tuesday stepped in to douse the fires ignited by Ram Jethmalani over Nitin Gadkari’s exit.

With speculation rife about Gadkari’s replacement, senior BJP leaders of all hues had positioned themselves to fill the vacuum, triggering in the process an intense internal struggle within the party.

It was former law minister and senior advocate Ram Jethmalani who set the cat among the pigeons, strongly pitching for Gadkari’s immediate removal, claiming it was also the view of senior party leaders Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha and Shatrughan Sinha.

With television fanning the controversy and the BJP credibility as a disciplined party seriously at stake, RSS ideologue S Gurumurthy, a reputed chartered accountant, was flown down from Chennai to play his assigned role of a peacemaker and secure a lifeline for Gadkari.

What followed was a flurry of political activity with Gadkari and Gurumurthy calling separately on senior party leaders — Lal Krishna Advani, Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj. Finally, a core group meeting was held in the evening at the party headquarters.

Earlier in the day, Gadkari made amends by heeding RSS advice and expressed “sincere regrets” for hurting public sentiments by his remarks on Swamy Vivekananda. Gurumurthy, in turn, called on Jethmalani to convince him that Gadkari’s business deals are in order and he ought not to go to the media demanding his removal.

Gurumurthy made a similar analytical presentation on Gadkari’s Purti group before other senior leaders to convince the party brass that there were no wrong doings, except for the usual business practices. Gurumurthy also reportedly urged them not to foreclose Gadkari’s prospects for a second term and wait for the outcome of an internal probe ordered by the RSS.

In the core group meeting, party leaders voiced apprehensions about a Congress hand in the media trial of Gadkari. They also scoffed at unsubstantiated reports, which had surfaced in the media on Tuesday about imminent takeover by Advani as the interim president. “Why is the media dragging the patriarch into the controversy when he is already there guiding us with his experience,” a senior party leader asked.

Front-ranking BJP leaders like Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and others, who were snubbed three years ago by the RSS when it foisted Gadkari as BJP president, are publicly supporting him. But each one of them is also stealthily positioning self as Gadkari’s replacement, or at least close to levers of power, so that they are there to share the spoils in the new dispensation when Gadkari makes his exit.

One strand of thinking in the core group was to let Gadkari complete his term, which in any way ends in December and decide about his successor after the Gujarat Assembly polls are over on December 17.

According to informed sources, Modi is watching the developments in the party closely and does not want a president to be anointed before Gujarat election results are out. A possible name that could crop up after the results is that of Arun Jaitley, who is acceptable to Modi.

The flurry of activity on Tuesday revealed that the RSS was continuing to back Gadkari through the current crisis. It was made clear to the BJP leadership that RSS will not dump Gadkari. The RSS, acutely conscious of its weakening hold over the BJP, also gave a veiled warning to those within the party jockeying for Gadkari’s exit, asserting that “the president will not be removed as a result of any sort of conspiracy.”

Advani wanted the issue of Gadkari’s successor decided by the next weekend. He would have preferred if was appointed an interim president himself or a person of his choice, say, former Himachal Chief Minister Shanta Kumar.

The RSS is upset over the hype that Ram Jethmalani tried to create on the TV channels about a letter he wrote to Advani to get Gadkari removed before the Parliament session begins. His antics come on the heels of his advocate son Mahesh Jethmalani resigning from the BJP’s national executive. Party sources said Jethmalani, a Rajya Sabha MP, is no longer a BJP member and hence the party won’t take cognizance of his unwarranted postures.

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