Pitchforked by circumstances, senior BJP leader Rajnath Singh was on Wednesday unanimously elected party president but he faces the immediate challenge of tackling internal feuds and repairing the damage caused by allegations of financial impropriety by his predecessor Nitin Gadkari.
The election of the 61-year-old former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, who comes back to the post which he had to quit in the wake of 2009 electoral debacle, took a little over an hour.
But the entire process had the underpinnings of the controversy that surrounded Gadkari over his alleged involvement in an irrigation scam in Maharashtra and the dubious funding of his Purti Group.
The situation in which Singh's choice came about was underscored by senior leader LK Advani who said the new president's biggest responsibility would be to ensure that "there is no compromise with any immoral behaviour".
Advani, whose opposition to Gadkari finally saw him out of the president's post despite RSS backing, also said, "We should prove that this is a party with a difference and not a party of differences as our opponents say."
Gadkari, who opted out of the presidential race on Tuesday in a dramatic turn of events because of the allegations against him, had succeeded Singh in 2009 after the Lok Sabha election debacle.
After the top leadership deciding on Singh on Tuesday night, the BJP Parliamentary Board met this morning in what was essentially a formality to approve Singh's candidature for the top party post.
Singh filed his nomination and was the only candidate in the fray. He was promptly declared elected without any contest. Had Gadkari contested there was a possibility of an election.
Noting that the circumstances in which he is taking over the party's presidentship are not good, Rajnath Singh said BJP will stand behind Gadkari in his fight to clear his name of all charges.
He said the party was looking forward to Gadkari leading it for a second term and lauded him for taking a moral high ground by deciding not to contest till his name was cleared. He added that no one could question Gadkari's integrity.
"We all wanted him to be elected as party president again and we amended the Constitution also. But the way baseless allegations were levelled against him, he said he would resign and not hold any post till his name is cleared. You are not alone, the whole BJP stands united behind you," said Singh.
Senior BJP leader LK Advani Wednesday said newly-elected party president Rajnath Singh's biggest responsibility would be to ensure that immoral acts are not tolerated and that the task ahead for the BJP is to be a "party with a difference".
"It is his (Rajnath's) special responsibility that there should be no compromise with anything that's not moral... BJP's task is to prove that it's a party with a difference," Advani said.
Hindustan Times.com conducted a poll with a question - Is Rajnath Singh the best choice to lead the BJP in the 2014 polls? - on the website on January 23 and more than 60% respondents answered in 'Yes' that means accoring to them Rajnath Singh is the best choice to lead the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
However, slightly more than 30% respondents indicated that Singh is not the best choice for the job in the party. Six per cent respondent have answered they have no opinion on the question.
"The general elections are due in 2014 and winning elections needs an ability to bring people together, and this he (Rajnath) has in adequate measure," he added while greeting Rajnath Singh on being elected as Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president.
Advani also asked Rajnath Singh to make efforts to strengthen the party's lost base in Uttar Pradesh.
"Rajnath is from Uttar Pradesh and we should strive to regain our lost base in UP. Rajnath has focused on agricultural issues and farmers. I am sure he will take the party forward on these principles," he said.
Advani also lauded Gadkari for frustrating BJP's opponents in politics and media by not giving them a chance to speak against the party.
Gadkari alleged there was a "political conspiracy" to tarnish his image and he proposed the name of Singh for the top post in party's interest.
"As far as the election for the second term is concerned, there had been a political conspiracy to link me with a subject with which I had no direct or indirect involvement. Then there were false allegations one after the other, and yesterday also there was a similar attempt," he said.
The party's Prime Ministerial probable and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi also welcomed Singh's elevation, saying he has administrative and organisational experience and this would benefit BJP.
"I called up Shri Rajnath Singhji and congratulated him.
He brings with him vast experience of both organisation and administration," Modi said on Twitter.
"Rajnath Singhji served as Agriculture Minister in Atalji's Govt. He has always been associated with the farmers. BJP will gain from this," he said.
After taking over, Singh said, "I accept this not as a post, but as a responsibility".
The new party chief exuded confidence of steering the party to victory in the forthcoming assembly elections in various states later this year and expressed the hope to see formation of an NDA regime led by BJP in the next general elections.
"I firmly believe that NDA will form the government in 2014," said Singh, adding that only BJP can tackle the country's problems and people expected it to rid the country of its troubles.
In his address, Advani said Singh has the capability to bring people together and hoped the party will resolve to win lost ground in Uttar Pradesh, from where he hails.
He said Singh has focussed on agricultural issues and farmers and was of the view that he will take the party forward.
Advani also said that BJP was considered an urban party, but the results have proved otherwise. "For years we have never got success in urban areas as we have won in rural areas," he said, citing the example of Madhya Pradesh which has seen the highest growth in agriculture sector.
Rajnath Singh earlier condemned Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde's Hindu terror remarks, which he termed as "irresponsible" and said it indicated the party in power was not serious about its fight against terrorism.
The new BJP chief charged Congress with trying to divide the nation on communal lines, saying it did only vote-bank politics.
Singh said the country was going through troubled times and blamed Congress for it, as it had ruled the nation for a maximum period, even as he accused the ruling party of being responsible for corruption and terrorism.
(With inputs from HT, PTI, IANS)