Rajnath Singh faces electoral, party challenges as BJP chief

New Delhi, Jan 23 (IANS) Rajnath Singh began his new innings as the BJP president Wednesday amid mounting organisational and electoral challenges for the party ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

Former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh's unanimous election as the BJP president from 2013 to 2015 was announced by Thawarchand Gehlot, who was the returning officer for the party's presidential election.

Earlier Wednesday, the party's parliamentary board met in the morning and approved Rajnath Singh's candidature for the top party post.

Rajnath Singh emerged as the presidential candidate Tuesday following the BJP's desire to insulate itself from allegations of financial wrongdoing faced by incumbent Nitin Gadkari over investments in Purti Group linked to him.

Till Tuesday afternoon, it looked almost certain that Gadkari would get another term but an income tax survey of shell companies linked to Purti group Tuesday sealed his fate.

Senior BJP leader L.K. Advani, who had reservations about giving Gadkari a second term, told gthe newly-elected Rajnath Singh that his big responsibility would be to ensure that "there should be no compromise with anything that's not moral".

He also said the new BJP chief had to ensure that the party continues to be "party with a difference".

Rajnath Singh's reappointment as the BJP chief has coincided with Rahul Gandhi taking over as the vice-president of the Congress.

It also coincided with the BJP government in Karnataka facing a serious threat of survival as two ministers quit the cabinet and they with 11 other party legislators said they would quit from the assembly too.

Rajnath Singh, 61, said the party will come true to the expectations of people and win the forthcoming elections in the states and to parliament.

"We will form the government in 2014," he said.

Rajnath Singh attacked the Congress for "ills of the country" and said he was assuming his duties with a sense of responsibility.

He announced thhat the BJP will hold countrywide protests Thursday against Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde's "Hindu terror" remarks.

Rajnath Singh also defended Gadkari, saying the allegations against him were "baseless".

"The circumstances in which I accept this responsibility are not happy for us. Gadkari is one of our workers on whose character questions cannot be raised. We wanted him to continue. We amended the constitution for it. But the way he was attacked by baseless allegations, he was hurt and resigned," he said.

"The entire party stands with him. I am not accepting this as a post but as a responsibility," Rajnath Singh added.

Rajnath Singh's mettle will be first tested in Karnataka, which is slated for elections in a few months. In Karnataka, the party faces challenges not only from the Congress but from its own former chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa.

There are a series of elections this year, including in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, ruled by the BJP, followed by the Lok Sabha polls in 2014. With the Congress campaign expected to be led by Rahul Gandhi, the BJP will have to evolve an effective strategy to attract youth, the middle class and the poor.

Rajnath Singh will also have to deal with the tricky issue of the party's prime ministerial candidate in view of ambitious senior leaders and issues linked to the rise of regional satraps.

Though Rajnath Singh served as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh from Oct 2000 to March 2002, he has won only two elections: a by-poll for the Haidergarh assembly seat in Barabanki when he was elected the chief minister, and second when he won the Ghaziabad parliamentary seat in 2009.

There are also apprehensions that he does not have a pan-national appeal.

Rajnath Singh first became party president in 2005 following L.K. Advani's resignation. He was re-elected Nov 2006 and was succeeded by Gadkari in 2009 after the party's defeat in the Lok Sabha polls that year.

The BJP had been in convulsions over giving Gadkari a second term. Party MP Yashwant Sinha Tuesday signalled his intention to contest the poll.

Gadkari said he voluntarily backed out from going for a second term as he wanted his name cleared of the allegations.

Thousands of BJP activists and supporters danced to drum beats, burst firecrackers and shouted slogans to mark Rajnath Singh's reappointment as the party chief.

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