It has been a long journey for 52-year-old Nitin Gadkari from a Sangh swayamsevak, to a student leader and to be the youngest-ever President of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Mr. Gadkari, who was appointed by the party’s Parliamentary Board to the top post today, is a disciplined soldier of Rashtriya Swayansevak Sangh (RSS) and will have the distinction of becoming the first BJP chief from Maharashtra.

It is a coincidence that he hails from Nagpur, the headquarters of the RSS — which has always been the guiding force for the main opposition party.

Mr. Gadkari, who has replaced Rajnath Singh, has been entrusted with the responsibility at a time when Congress is playing the Rahul Gandhi card, projecting the young leader as the future Prime Minister and BJP is facing serious challenges on the leadership front.

The BJP leader, who was till now the chief of Maharashtra BJP, proved his mettle as an effective minister in the Shiv Sena-BJP government in the State 10 years back.

An ‘outsider’ in Delhi, but no babe in the woods

Though an ‘outsider’ in Delhi circles, he is no babe in the woods and is known in the BJP as a clear thinker having a forward-looking vision and an organiser who knows how to take the party along.

Mr. Gadkari has maintained his close proximity with the RSS leadership right from the days of the then RSS chief, Balasaheb Deoras, and later with Rajju Bhaiyya, K. C. Sudarshan and the current head of the organisation Mohan Bhagwat.

In fact, the talk in BJP circles is that Mr. Gadkari became the hot favourite for the top job following Mr. Bhagwat’s search for a new leader to turn the party around.

The RSS chief was on the mission in the wake of the BJP asking for its help to get its house in order following the second successive defeat in the Lok Sabha elections earlier this year.

Mr. Gadkari has been brought in the wake of failure of the second-rung leaders to put up a united show and indulging in one-upmanship for succeeding Rajnath Singh, who quit as party chief today.

First big break

During the Sena-BJP regime in Maharashtra, Mr. Gadkari got the first big break when he was inducted in the Manohar Joshi cabinet and was entrusted with the PWD portfolio.

A visionary leader, Mr. Gadkari changed the work culture of his department, made bureaucrats accountable and encouraged build, operate and transfer (BOT) policy in projects.

His greatest achievement as PWD Minister was to build the Mumbai-Pune Expressway which has drastically cut the distance and the time of travel.

The names of Mr. Gadkari and former Goa Chief Minister, Manohar Parrikar, were zeroed in on by the RSS leadership, as also L. K. Advani, but Parrikar’s ‘rancid pickle’ remark about Mr. Advani appeared to have become his nemesis.

Student politics

Mr. Gadkari joined the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyathi Parishad (ABVP), the BJP’s student wing, in 1976 and became secretary of Vidarbha region two years later while he was studying in Nagpur University.

At the age of 24, he was elected as city president of Bhartiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM).

He then became secretary of Nagpur BJP unit and has since never looked back, achieving the ultimate milestone in party organisation in his nearly three decades of political career.

Electoral debut

He made debut in the electoral politics of Maharashtra when at the age of 32 became a member of Maharashtra Legislative Council (MLC) from the graduates’ constituency in 1990. He retained his seat in 1996, 2002 and 2008. In 2002, he was elected unopposed.

Later he became the general secretary of Maharashtra BJP unit and served as Opposition Leader in the State Legislative Council. In 2004, he was appointed State unit president.

Born on May 27, 1957, Mr. Gadkari is a post-graduate in commerce and has a law degree and diploma in business management.

Mr. Gadkari has stakes in a bio-diesel pump, a sugar factory, ethanol blending plant of 1.20 lakh litres capacity, a 26 MW power captive generation unit, soyabean plant and co-generation energy plant.