NEW DELHI: The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh seems to have put its Plan B for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections into operation. The letter by a prominent Maharashtra farmer leader Kishore Tiwari to RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat to replace Prime Miniser Narendra Modi with Union Minister Nitin Gadkari echoes murmurs within the ruling party and the bureacracy on the same lines.

Tiwari is chairperson of the Maharashtra government’s Vasantrao Naik Sheti Swavalamban Mission (VNSSM) and the letter has not been written, sources said, without guidance. That it was sent while PM Modi was visiting Maharashtra is also not being seen as a coincidence by the BJP leaders, particularly as the party in the state is virtually isolated being under attack from the Shiv Sena, as well as the Congress and the National Congress Party.

Tiwari in his letter has blamed “arrogant leaders” for the defeat of the BJP in Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. He has mentioned demonetisation, Goods and Services Tax, petrol hike as examples of this arrogance."Leaders who pursue an extremist and dictatorial attitude in the party and government are dangerous for the society and the country... This has been witnessed before and if history is not to be repeated, hand over the reins to Gadkari for the 2019 polls," Tiwari said.

Gadkari is being mentioned in BJP circles for some time now as a possible replacement for PM Modi, with the RSS reportedly backing him. This is based on the assessment that the BJP could fall short of a majority in the general elections and thus need a coalition to remain in power. Given the increasing isolation of PM Modi and BJP President Amit Shah within the ruling establishment, the two might find it difficult to bring together the regional parties behind them. The RSS wants the BJP to remain in power, and this according to what is referred to as Plan B might be possible by bringing in the more popular and business friendly Gadkari into the drivers seat instead.

Gadkari has an excellent relationship with Bhagwat and the RSS, as well as with several regional parties that could make the difference to the BJP from sitting on the treasury benches or being relegated to the Opposition side of the Lok Sabha. The list of possible supporters for a government under Gadkari includes most of the state parties, as all except perhaps the Samajwadi party, have had tryst with the BJP in past avatars. The sticking point currently appears to be not the party but PM Modi and Shah.

Tiwari has clearly spoken for many others within when he wrote in the letter that Gadkari is “adquately qualified” for the top job, As BJP president earlier Gadkari had reached out to the hardliners in the old guard, namely Kalyan Singh and Uma Bharti, and brought them in from the cold.

Gadkari is also a favourite with the business community. He has in fact asserted this by defying the trend and coming out in support of Vijay Mallya. Even in his clarification that he was not at all opposed to government action against Mallya, currently fugitive in the UK, Gadkari made it clear that in his view the industrialist had a good account for 40 years, and not so in the 41st year, “and that happens in business, there are always ups and downs.”

The Union Minister also made it clear at the BJP Parliamentary party meeting in response to questions by legislators, that there should be no rush to build the Ram temple. And that this should be by consensus. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh who was presiding in the absence of PM Modi, also advised patience. Both the Prime Minister and Amit Shah were not present at the weekly stocktaking after the Assembly elections.

Gadkari is seen as accessible and friendly, according to BJP and even Opposition leaders. He has extensive corporate and business contacts, seen by this powerful lobby as a good administrator and as one businessman put it, “a man who keeps his word.” He is a staunch RSS leader, but does not reflect the rigidity and the arrogance that has come to be associated with the current leadership. The Shiv Sena that is currently speaking out against Modi and Shah, is more favourably inclined towards Gadkari.

Rajnath Singh and Sushma Swaraj, both of the old guard, and not very close to the Prime Minister, have sound equations with Gadkari. He has taken care to keep all doors open, remaining polite and deferential to sidelined leaders like LK Advani.

The RSS and BJP recognise PM Modi’s skills as a vote getter and crowd puller. He is by far the most popular leader in the party. However, the Assembly results seem to have dented his invincibility within the party with the BJP sharing opposition assessments of a sharp decline in seats in the Lok Sabha polls. If this happens then Plan B with Gadkari at the helm to bring together the regional parties in a BJP led coalition could be set in motion. But then this is an ‘if’ that Tiwari has placed on the table with no response from either Bhagwat or the BJP. The RSS is keen to keep the BJP in power to implement its agenda to the full, and as an Opposition MP from Bihar laughed, “if not Modi, then Gadkari….” Asked if this could happen he shrugged saying, “who knows, they will try of course but whether they will succeed is another question altogether.”