Nitin Gadkari was on Saturday appointed the President of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), succeeding Rajnath Singh whose term got over last month.

At 52, Mr. Gadkari happens to be the youngest party president, heralding the party’s first step towards ushering in a generational transition in its leadership. His appointment was announced after a meeting of the BJP Parliamentary Board at the party headquarters here.

At the meeting, Rajnath Singh also formally stepped down as the party president at the end of his three-year tenure. Placing on record its gratitude to Mr. Singh for the leadership provided by him, the Parliamentary Board expressed confidence that his services would continue to be available to the party.

Mr. Gadkari’s appointment as the BJP chief came a day after the party veteran L. K. Advani stepped down as Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, handing over baton to Sushma Swaraj. A special slot of Chairman of BJP Parliamentary Party was created by amending the party constitution and Mr. Advani became its first incumbent. Arun Jaitley was also renominated as the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha.

First party president from Maharashtra

Hailing from Nagpur, Mr. Gadkari also happens to be the first party president from Maharashtra. He has been a public works minister in Maharashtra from 1995 to 1999 and has also been heading the party’s State unit since November 2004.

Mr. Gadkari takes charge of the BJP at a time when the party is trying to restructure itself after suffering a setback in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. Indications of a generational change in the BJP were available over the past few months, particularly when Mohan Bhagwat took over as the new chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Giving an inkling of the RSS thinking, he hinted at the possibility of younger leaders coming to the helm of affairs in the BJP.

Mr. Bhagwat, in his public speeches at several forums, had also indicated that the BJP leadership should be handed over to those between 55 and 65 years of age and the next party chief should be from outside Delhi.

After the meeting of the party’s Parliamentary Board where he was flanked by Mr. Advani, Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, Mr. Gadkari said that he was happy to shoulder the "biggest responsibility’’ in the party which has been entrusted to him.

Seeking help of all the office-bearers in his new assignment, he said the process of appointing a new set of office-bearers would take some time. Party sources said that it could take about two months for the new office bearers to take charge as the organisational elections in the States were also to be held next month.

'Will follow the nationalist ideology of the party'

Later, talking to reporters, Mr. Gadkari said that he would be paying visits to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Mr. Advani and Ms. Swaraj to seek their blessings. "I will follow the nationalist ideology of the party. I will not do anything which will let the leaders down,’’ he said while making a pitch for a ``strong political will’’ that was needed to solve all sorts of problems in the country.

Known as the "infrastructure and development’’ man, Mr. Gadkari said that he never made any false commitments or promises.

"There is a saying, where there is a will, there is a way. That is how I achieved success in implementing expressway projects in Maharashtra and I will use politics as an instrument for bring about socio-economic reforms and carrying on social welfare activities,’’ he said in his first brief comments after assuming charge as the party chief.

End of Atal-Advani era

As the party workers burst crackers and some even danced to the beats of drums at the party headquarters rejoicing at the top level change in the party, Mr. Gadkari’s appointment as party chief also drew curtains on the Atal-Advani era in the BJP. He happens to be the ninth party president since 1980 when the BJP came into being and Atal Bihari Vajpayee became its first president. Only Mr. Advani enjoyed three terms as the party chief from 1986 to 1990, from 1992 to 1998 and 2004 to 2005.

Assuring him of all possible support from the office-bearers of the BJP, Mr. Advani said that Mr. Gadkari was a popular leader and known for the Mumbai-Pune Express Highway. Rajnath Singh said the Parliamentary Board members and party’s State units saw in Mr. Gadkari a responsible and able worker.

Former BJP chief M. Venkaiah Naidu said that Mr. Gadkari would have the support of entire party apparatus as the party believed in "collective leadership.’’ Expressing confidence that the party would emerge stronger during Mr. Gadkari’s leadership, Mr. Naidu said that guidance of Mr. Vajpayee and Mr. Advani would be always available to the party.

As Leader of the Opposition in Maharashtra Legislative Council and also as the president of the party’s Maharashtra unit, Mr. Gadkari’s efforts to rebuild the party organisation earned him a reputation for being an "efficient and energetic’’ leader. He also made it a point to associate every party worker with at least one social or voluntary service project in the region.

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