Nitin Gadkari was today appointed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president to become its youngest chief, marking the second step in generational leadership change in the party devastated after its Lok Sabha debacle.

The 52-year-old leader, who succeeds Rajnath Singh, is a disciplined soldier of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and has the distinction of being the first BJP chief from Maharashtra.

Mr. Rajnath Singh, whose three-year term ended on Nov. 26, formally stepped down from the post at the meeting of BJP Parliamentary Board which chose the new incumbent.

Mr. Gadkari’s name had been doing rounds for the top BJP post for some time, particularly since the RSS got into the act in August and gave enough hints about leaders like L.K. Advani giving way to “younger” people to take charge of party affairs.

The ball was set rolling for the generational change in the party when RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had held a series of meetings with Mr. Advani and other senior leaders and openly said that the leadership should go to those between 55 and 65 years of age and those outside Delhi.

“Biggest responsibility”

Flanked by Mr. Advani, Mr. Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, Mr. Gadkari said he was happy with the “biggest responsibility” in the party conferred on him.

Facing a tough task of steering a party that is riven by differences among senior leaders, he “requested” the office-bearers to help him in his new assignment as the “process of appointing a new set of office-bearers will take some time.”

Will follow nationalist ideology

Noting that he would require the “blessings” of former the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and Mr. Advani, Mr. Gadkari said, “Cultural nationalism is the inspiration. I will follow the nationalist ideology of the party... I will not do anything which will let the leaders down.”

Though an ‘outsider’ in Delhi circles, he is known in the BJP as an organisational man and had earned a reputation as an efficient minister in Maharashtra in Sena-BJP coalition government.

Mr. Gadkari said Mr. Advani had discussed with him the issue two months ago and Mr. Rajnath Singh was the second person do so.

“Change is a natural process”

Mr. Advani said Mr. Gadkari was named the party president as he was popular among people. “He is known for the Mumbai-Pune Express Highway...he is popular,” Mr. Advani said and assured him of all possible support by the office-bearers of the party.

Mr. Rajnath Singh said the Parliamentary Board members and state units were of the view that Mr. Gadkari was an able worker who could be entrusted with the responsibility.

“Change is a natural process,” the outgoing party chief said, adding the handover of baton reflected that BJP was a progressive party.

Mr. Gadkari took over at a time when the party is in the process of restructuring in the wake of Lok Sabha poll debacle.

As a first step in this direction, Mr. Advani yesterday stepped down as the Leader of Opposition paving way for Ms. Swaraj to don the mantle.

Rajnath enumerates achievements

The party’s constitution was also amended to create the post of Chairman of BJP Parliamentary Party and Mr. Advani was chosen as its first incumbent.

Mr. Rajnath Singh enumerated his achievements in the last four years, while saying that he had started with “apprehensions” and was “hesitant” initially when he replaced a man of Mr. Advani’s stature.

He said under his presidentship, BJP won several of the 29 assembly elections but there were sad moments also when the party lost polls. He mentioned the death of Pramod Mahajan and the illness of his mentor Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Interestingly, Rajnath said Advani — to whom he gave a tough challenge within the party — had filled the vacuum created by Vajpayee’s absence due to ill-health.

The outgoing president quoted Mr. Advani as saying “no other party growing so much in such a short time”, to give himself credit.

Hailing the choice of Mr. Gadkari as his successor, Mr. Rajnath Singh said State units of the party and BJP Chief Ministers had endorsed his candidature.

He said change of responsibility was a natural process in politics and especially in a democratic party like BJP.

The former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister said it was possible only in the BJP that a person like him, who was born in a poor farmer family, and Mr. Gadkari — also from a humble background — rose to become party presidents.

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