While gamely accepting the sweets thrust at him, the new BJP president Rajnath Singh did not appear to quite savour the moment. His elevation to the post comes after months of uncertainty and he takes office as the RSS’s second best choice — its favourite Nitin Gadkari who is hobbled by corruption charges had to opt out due to bitter opposition from BJP stalwarts like LK Advani. The names of virtually all the top leaders have been floating around in recent times for the post, but in the end Mr Singh was the compromise candidate. Whether wittingly or unwittingly, Mr Advani seems to have handed the new incumbent a crown of thorns by saying that the onus for the success of the party in the 2014 elections is on him.
While the wheel of life has come a full circle for the Thakur from Uttar Pradesh — he was denied a second term in 2009 to make way for Mr Gadkari — he has an unenviable task ahead of him. The party has been riven by factionalism and infighting in recent times, often quite publicly. Its senior leaders don’t seem to be on the same page on several issues and there have been many personality clashes. Naturally, this has demoralised the rank and file of the party. The other problem is that the RSS will be smarting that its choice Nitin Gadkari did not make the grade and this will have an effect on the organisation’s cadre whose help on the ground is vital for BJP candidates in the polls. While it is true that political opponents cannot use corruption as an issue against the party with Mr Gadkari’s exit, Mr Singh’s patchy track record will also be of some concern to the BJP. Under his watch earlier, the BJP plummeted to 51 seats in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections in 2007. It was he who dropped today’s BJP star Narendra Modi from the party’s central parliamentary board shortly after he took over last time. He has, of course, made up with Mr Modi but it is not clear whether the Gujarat strongman has forgotten that incident.
Mr Singh has very little time to get the party back in shape to take on a resurgent Congress. Its situation in Karnataka is dismal and Mr Singh is not very well known outside the Hindi heartland. In the past, Mr Singh has suggested that he would not be averse to the top job for which Mr Modi is being spoken of as a possibility now. This could mean further tensions ahead. For Mr Singh, the congratulatory sweets may leave a bit of a bitter aftertaste unless he manages the Herculean feat of resolving the many problems the party faces today.