Nitin Gadkari is set to take over as president of the Bharatiya Janata Party at the end of Rajnath Singh's tenure on December 23.

Highly placed sources in the party have confirmed that a formal meeting of top leaders is expected to take place by weekend and this decision will be taken.

A formal announcement of consensus on Mr. Gadkari, now president of the Maharashtra unit, is expected to be made after the meeting, and he could take charge by December 24.

There is a strong indication that a key general secretary in Mr. Gadkari's team will be the former Goa Chief Minister, Manohar Parrikar, who at one time was tipped to be the next president.

The change in the party presidentship is expected to be followed by L.K. Advani's resignation as Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, but no one in the party is willing to bet that this will happen at the end of the winter session of Parliament as expected earlier.

Organisational poll

Simultaneously the ongoing organisational elections will go forward. Mr. Gadkari will be declared elected in January-February next for a three-year term as mandated by the party constitution. Soon afterwards, his election will be ratified by the national council.

Mr. Singh has already conveyed to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leadership that he would not like to continue as president beyond December 23, when his three-year term ends.

The BJP move, in consultation with the RSS leadership, to formally announce Mr. Gadkari's name even before the election process is completed is being seen as an attempt to stop a whisper campaign by some party leaders that his elevation is uncertain and that no consultations have as yet taken place.

It is no secret that the RSS is in favour of a complete overhaul of the BJP leadership - Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat himself made it quite clear in several statements and interviews. It seems Mr. Singh's voluntary exit even before the election process is completed is expected to build pressure on Mr. Advani to resign as Leader of the Opposition at the end of this winter session next week.

"Mr. Advani earlier conveyed to the RSS his decision to resign at the end of the session. But one cannot say with certainty whether this will or will not happen," said one senior functionary.

"It is logical and natural for Ms. Sushma Swaraj to be made Leader of the Opposition," one BJP leader said, but there was no certainty as there were "many other stalwarts in the Lok Sabha." She is now the deputy leader.

Arun Jaitley is Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha.

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