New Delhi: The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) opted for former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh as its next president after Nitin Gadkari had to bow out of the race. Gadkari was the candidate backed by the BJP’s ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
The choice of president is critical given that there will be several state polls in the run up to the general election in 2014. Singh will lead the party till 2015.
The last-minute decision to drop Gadkari, who was expected to be re-elected for another three years, was done to manage internal differences within the party and to enable it to focus on the key issue of governance in its fight with the ruling Congress party and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) that it leads.
With the unanimous election of Singh, the BJP, which has been consistently attacking the UPA government over a series of corruption charges against its leaders, has started getting its house in order. Singh is a Lok Sabha member from Uttar Pradesh.
Sensing this, the new Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi unexpectedly addressed the media at party headquarters, something he didn’t do during his term as general secretary.
“The environment and the discussions in politics are acrimonious,” Gandhi said. “We are fighting on small reasons... I don’t want to get into negative politics. I don’t want to be critical of everybody. I want to get into positive politics. Positive politics is what is going to take this country forward.”
Gandhi formally assumed charge as Congress vice-president at the party headquarters in New Delhi on Wednesday, after having been chosen to fill the post at a party conclave over the weekend.
Calling the Congress party the most powerful instrument for mobilizing youngsters as well as making changes and transforming the country, he said: “We are a dynamic country and we can do wonders... I want to be accessible to as many youngsters and experienced people as possible and try and use this instrument to change this country.”
While the Congress is trying to project Gandhi as the face of the party for upcoming election campaigns, the main opposition party is depending on the experienced Singh, who led the party between 2006 and 2009.
“The RSS had to bend to the opposition to Gadkari’s candidature. The RSS normally has its way,” said Balveer Arora, former head of the department of political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
It also shows that the BJP is ridden with factionalism and there is no push to create a second rung of leadership, while the Congress is focusing on the youth, he said.
Singh, 61, emerged as the surprise choice after a section of leaders opposed the re-election of Gadkari after income-tax raids on companies associated with him.
“When (former finance minister Yashwant) Sinha said he would contest against Gadkari, the RSS leadership realized that there would be a split in the party. They wanted to avoid it and Singh emerged as a compromise candidate,” said a person familiar with the development who didn’t want to be identified.
Senior BJP leader L.K. Advani called on the newly elected BJP president to adopt a no-tolerance approach to unethical behaviour and corruption.
Indicating the BJP’s strategy of refocusing on the politically crucial state of UP, the former deputy prime minister said that under Singh’s leadership the party should look at regaining ground in the state.
“Our situation in India’s biggest state is very painful. It should be a resolution of Rajnath Singh to change that situation,” Advani said at the party headquarters.
Singh said India was “going through a tough time” and blamed the ruling Congress party for this. “We are going through many hardships, including inflation, internal security issues, and the only party that can resolve this for the country is the BJP,” he said.