It is not yet a done deal. Prime Minister Narendra Modi may still do his best to prevent it. Yet the odds on sidelined Bharatiya Janata Party leader Sanjay Joshi making a comeback have changed dramatically after the intense electioneering in Bihar.

The BJP leaders both at Centre and in the state admit that Joshi’s visits to Bihar were more frequent than expected. “He helped candidates in organising things on the ground,” said a BJP candidate, whose name recently figured among possible chief ministerial candidates if the party wins state polls. “He is an astute organisation man and has immense ability to get the best out of party workers. This is important if you want to win the election.”

Joshi, who was forced out of the party’s leadership in 2012, told, that he was not given any official responsibilities in Bihar. “But a large number of BJP candidates had made personal requests to me," he said. "I went there and worked for them in personal capacity.”

In all, Joshi visited almost half of the districts of Bihar during the election campaign and helped organise things for a large number of BJP candidates. “I camped in Siwan, Muzaffarpur, Sasaram, Nalanda, Madhubani, Vaishali, Aurangabad, Madhepura, Patna, Gaya, Darbhanga, Rohtas and some other places to assist party candidates,” he said.

Political camps

Once an all-powerful general secretary in the BJP, Joshi does not hold any position in the party and is said to be the man Modi dislikes the most. For a few years in the early 1990s, he shared a functioning equation with Modi, but once the faction fight in the Gujarat BJP came to a head, he ended up in the Keshubhai Patel camp. For almost a decade thereafter, he ruled Gujarat by proxy with Keshubhai as chief minister, while leveraging his closeness with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh headquarters at Nagpur to keep Modi out of the state.

In 2001, when Modi returned to Gandhinagar as Chief Minister, the RSS shifted Joshi to Delhi, giving him the crucial position of BJP general secretary in charge of the organisation. In 2005, Joshi was forced to resign following the controversy over a sleaze video allegedly showing him in poor light. Though the video was found to be fake, he remained persona non grata until he was made the chief coordinator for Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections in 2012 by Nitin Gadkari, then party president. The rehabilitation, however, proved short lived as Modi, who was Gujarat chief minister at the time, refused to participate in the BJP’s national executive, which was being held later that year at Mumbai, unless Joshi was told to leave the venue and the city. Since then Joshi has remained in obscurity, holding no post in the BJP.

The BJP insiders, however, admit that in last few months Joshi’s popularity has increased manifold among the party’s lower level leaders and cadres in the Hindi belt. He also continues to enjoy extremely good rapport with the RSS leaders and pracharaks across the country.

Who’s backing him?

It is in this backdrop that Joshi’s unusually high involvement in the electioneering in Bihar has fuelled intense speculations in the party circles. So who is backing Joshi despite Modi being so allergic to him? And why?

“Sanjayji Joshi is an able organiser and a disciplined worker of the party,” said a senior RSS office-bearer.  “He does not need anyone’s permission to help out party candidates.”

Until now the RSS – apparently under pressure from Modi – has desisted from making any effort to overtly rehabilitate Joshi. But it is said to remain sympathetic to him and has been watching the developments in the party rather keenly.

It is unlikely that the RSS would precipitate matters concerning Joshi’s rehabilitation anytime soon as Modi is said to remain adamant against him. Yet Joshi’s growing involvement in the party’s activities at grassroots level has made the BJP brass uncomfortable.

Party insiders feel that Joshi’s influence may increase further if Modi and Amit Shah fail to work a miracle in Bihar. And then it would be difficult for Modi and Shah to stop the RSS from involving Joshi – either directly or indirectly – in the preparation for the Uttar Pradesh polls due in early 2017.