BJP core group backs Gadkari, seeks to end internal rift

New Delhi, Nov 6 (IANS) Seeking to end an internal rift over Nitin Gadkari's continuance as BJP chief, the party core committee Tuesday expressed faith in his leadership and sought to give him a virtual clean chit over allegations of financial impropriety in his business dealings, saying a probe had shown that he had done "no legal or moral wrong".

The core committee meeting, which lasted nearly two hours was attended by senior leaders including Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley and party general secretaries. Party veteran L.K. Advani and Gadkari himself were not present.

Party chief spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said after the meeting that the party "endorsed the stand of Shri Gadkari that he is ready and willing to face any fair inquiry".

Reading from a statement signed by Sushma Swaraj and Jaitley, Prasad said: "Shri Gadkari has no direct or indirect interest in the 18 investment companies which have invested in the Purti Group".

Prasad said the meeting was held in the backdrop of several allegations in the media about shareholding in the Purti Group.

"S. Gurumurthy, noted chartered accountant and financial analyst, who has examined these documents and facts made a presentation to the party leaders. The meeting accepted the presentation of Shri Gurumurthy that there was no legal or moral wrong doing by Shri Nitin Gadkari," he said.

Gurumurthy is considered close to the Rahstriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Gadkari has enjoyed the backing of the RSS, the ideological mentor of the BJP.

The announcement came as a relief to Gadkari who has been facing the heat from sections within the party over allegations of financial impropriety. He had earlier said that he was ready for any probe and the party had endorsed his stand.

It came a day after his controversial statement comparing Swami Vivekanand and fugitive don Dawood Ibrahim provided further ammunition to his detractors.

BJP leaders were huddled in meetings throughout the day following demand by party MP Ram Jethmalani that Gadkari should resign immediately. Gadkari was also part of some of the meetings.

Jethmalani had written a letter to Advani earlier this month saying his demand for Gadkari's ouster had support of party leaders Yashwant Sinha, Jaswant Singh and Shatrughan Sinha.

In a message to leaders who had spoken against Gadkari's leadership, Prasad said party's internal issues should not be discussed in public.

Party sources said the core committee's announcement signifies that Gadkari was unlikely to be asked to go before his term ends and the party would go into the winter session of parliament with him as the president. Gadkari had taken over as BJP chief in December 2009 for a three-year term.

The sources, however, said the backing was not an endorsement for a second term for Gadkari and serious questions remained on the issue.

They said it remained to be seen if backing by the core group would quell dissidence against Gadkari.

"The announcement of support, in a way, may open the door for a graceful exit for Gadkari," a party leader told IANS.

They said that the party was in the middle of the assembly election campaign in Gujarat and any signal about Gadkari's removal at this stage would not have helped the party.

They added that Gadkari's resignation would also have disturbed delicately balanced internal equations in the BJP with obvious questions rising about his successor.

The sources said it would have also opened the question of prime ministerial candidate at a time when the party wanted to focus its energies on taking on the Congress.

Earlier in the day, Gadkari regretted his remarks on Swami Vivekananda, a day after he denied comparing the 19th century seer to fugitive don Dawood Ibrahim.

His comparison of the two during a speech in Bhopal Sunday had evoked disapproval from the RSS also. Gadkari has maintained that he had been misquoted and his remarks distorted.

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