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Monday, 5 November 2012

Mahesh Jethmalani quits BJP national executive citing graft charges against Nitin Gadkari

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Mahesh Jethmalani quits BJP national executive citing graft charges against Nitin Gadkari
Clean Media Correspondent

New Delhi, Nov 05 (CMC) Noted lawyer and BJP leader Mahesh Jethmalani has sent a two-line letter to party president Nitin Gadkari resigning from the BJP's national executive. He has said it would be "morally and intellectually" wrong for him to continue in the party forum as long as Mr Gadkari is in office.

Mr Jethmalani is the son of leading lawyer and BJP Rajya Sabha MP, Ram Jethmalani, who had recently suggested that Mr Gadkari should step down. His is the first open rebellion in a party that reportedly has many people questioning the sagacity of letting Mr Gadkari continue as the party's head after being engulfed in corruption charges with savage effect since last month, when TV channels reported on what appear to be a matrix of ghost investors who prop up a company he co-founded in 2000. He retired as its chairman last year, and now holds about 200 shares in the firm.

The letter Mr Jethmalani has written to Mr Gadkari reads, "Dear Nitinji, I deem it morally and intellectually inappropriate to continue to serve on the party's National Executive Committee as long as you are the President of the BJP. I hereby tender my resignation from the same." The Oxford-educated lawyer said today that his is a personal opinion and he does not "speak for the BJP or the RSS." He also said he did not find the BJP president's defense of the charges of financial wrongdoings against him "satisfactory".

Mr Jethmalani's father, who is counted among the most outspoken members of the BJP, had said recently that Mr Gadkari should not aspire for a second term as party president "because it weakens the party. We are fighting against corruption; we have to have a man of absolute impeccable integrity." He also caused eyebrows to be raised when he wrote to Mr Gadkari last month, saying the party must declare Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi its candidate for PM in the 2014 elections. "I do not think that the choice is difficult...I would want Narendra Modi whose integrity and administrative ability are not in doubt," Mr Jethamalani had said in his two-page letter.

The RSS had dismissed the 89-year-old Ram Jethmalani's attack on Mr Gadkari as unimportant. Indeed the Jethmalanis are not big fish in the BJP pond. But the father and son have brought out the fault lines in the saffron party.

Sources say there is a section in the BJP's top leadership that has closed ranks around the beleaguered party president - their chief motive being to keep Narendra Modi at bay. Some of these leaders and others also see value in backing Mr Gadkari to curry favour with the RSS, which handpicked him as BJP president in 2009 and pressured the BJP to change its rules to prep the ground for an unprecedented second consecutive term for him. That second term appears unfathomable now.

There is a section in the BJP, say sources, who are dead set against that second term for Mr Gadkari. Then there are also those in the party, like party patriarch, LK Advani, who see in opposing Mr Gadkari, an opportunity to weaken the RSS' grip on the BJP.    

In the RSS, which is the BJP's ideological mentor, too there is reportedly growing inquietude over the allegations against its man. Backing him will be an embarrassment, sacking him will mean admitting it made a mistake. It has played safe so far asking for an impartial probe, signalling that its support for Mr Gadkari is far from unconditional.   

On record the BJP has said that Mr Gadkari will continue as its president till his term expires in December - it has also repeatedly praised Mr Gadkari for offering to assist all investigation into the corruption charges. But his isolation is visible in the fact that increasingly only party spokesmen speak publically in his defence. One of them, Rajiv Pratap Rudy today rebuked Mr Jethmalani today for his letter reaching the media "even before it reached the BJP." But he did not offer comment on Mr Jethmalani's action, merely pointing out that Mr Gadkari had already explained the charges against him to the party. The senior leader said Mr Jethmalani's view was that of an individual in a party "with the largest membership base in the world" and the party would look into it.

Politically the BJP's big worry is that the charges being configured against Mr Gadkari are impaling the BJP's campaign ahead of important elections as a healthy option to the Congress, which it has accused of insuperable graft. The government, which is led by the Congress, has with uncharacteristic alacrity, said that the charges against Mr Gadkari and the firms that bought into his Purthi Power and Sugar Limited are being investigated by income tax officials and the Corporate Affairs Ministry. Sources say that early inquiries confirm that the investor firms have bogus directors and addresses.  

At a rally in Delhi yesterday, Congress President Sonia Gandhi without naming Mr Gadkari took direct aim at him. "Those who dig trenches to bury others often find  a well waiting for them," she said, making it clear that the BJP president has lost the moral authority to question her party's credentials on clean governance.

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