NEW DELHI: Union Minister for Road Transport & Highways, Shipping and Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation Nitin Gadkari is in the news again for launching what many believe is yet another subtle attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

At a rally of farmers and ABVP workers in Nagpur yesterday Gadkari told the audience that a party worker should take care of his domestic life first, before working for country or party.

A social media consensus rapidly emerged that Gadkari had been aiming at PM Modi. And was yet again positioning himself as the BJP’s alternative candidate for prime minister if the Hindu supremacist party fails to get an absolute majority in the coming general election.

Gadkari told the gathering that he often meets people who say they want to devote their lives to the BJP. “I asked one of them what do you do, who all are there in your family,” Gadkari said. The man told him he had closed his shop as business was not doing well and that he had a wife and children.

“I said to him, first take care of your home, because one who cannot manage his home cannot manage the country,” Gadkari concluded, “Hence first manage your home and look after your children properly, then work for the party and country.”

It was only when contesting the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 that PM Modi declared in a sworn affidavit to the Election Commission that he was in fact married. The prime minister’s wife, Jashodaben Narendrabhai Modi, had not found mention in any of Modi’s election affidavits in Gujarat.

Among the first to take note was the Congress’s Sanjay Jha, who tweeted that Gadkari was right, and “one who cannot take care of home, can’t manage the country.”

Soon after, Rahul Gandhi hailed Gadkari on Twitter for being the only courageous leader in the Bharatiya Janata Party. Gadkari responded saying he did not need certificates of courage from Gandhi.

Many in Gadkari’s party believe it is his personal ambition to become prime minister. Certainly if one looks at the statements he has been making the last couple of months, they appear to be well calculated. So why is he being permitted to attack the government in this fashion?

A senior BJP leader considered close to the Modi camp requesting anonymity explained to The Citizen that “there has been pressure on us since the Gujarat results. But the final nail in the coffin was the results in Madhya Pradesh and two other states recently. This has paved the way for criticism of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah within the party, who till some time ago enjoyed absolute authority among party workers.”

“These statements coming from Gadkari right after the electoral debacle are only intended to damage the power and authority the Modi-Shah duo exercises, and make them appear weak,” he added.

This is not the first time Gadkari has taken potshots at the PM. Only last week he urged the government to make promises that could be fullfilled, as citizens would beat up politicians who made them dream and failed them later.

But in a manner that has become his signature style, Gadkari soon issued a clarification that he had been referring to Rahul Gandhi and not his party.

More such comments, supplemented by clarification: Gadkari praised Jawaharlal Nehru, and asked leaders to take responsibility for electoral defeats. On occasion he has come out to defend Vijay Mallya, only to tiptoe back later and clarify.

Interestingly, the otherwise vocal Shah and Modi have maintained a grim silence on the matter, indicating a deepening rift within the Sangh. Many in political circles believe this is being done at the behest of the RSS, which is known to be unhappy with the functioning of the present government.