Tue, Jan 03, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Hindu nationalist party sees shift to younger leadership

AFP , NEW DELHI

Rajnath Singh took charge as president of India's Hindu nationalist opposition party yesterday from former deputy prime minister Lal Krishna Advani, marking a shift to younger leadership in the 25-year-old party.

Advani, 77, formally introduced Singh, 54, to workers of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in New Delhi. The low-profile Singh is known for his organizational skills within the party.

"My aim is to consolidate the party and make it strong. I will also aim to expose the anti-people policies of the present [Congress party-led] government," Singh told a press conference later.

Singh, who joined the Hindu nationalists in the 1970s, was chief minister of the politically key province of Uttar Pradesh from 2000 to 2002. The province sends the most number of MPs to the 545-member national parliament.

Analysts say Singh's elevation to the post of BJP president signals the transfer of power from the old guard -- Advani and former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee -- to its second generation of leaders.

Advani took charge of the BJP as president for the second time in November 2004 after the party's surprise defeat in national polls in May that year. He was forced to quit last month by the BJP's ideological mentor the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS).

Advani fell out with the RSS when he praised Pakistan's founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah during a visit to Pakistan in June.

Political analysts said the move was aimed at attempting to steer the party toward the mainstream and win support from India's vast Muslim population.

But it went down badly with Hindu hardliners, who hold Jinnah responsible for the partition of the Indian subcontinent into Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan at the end of British rule in 1947.

Singh faces a stiff battle to restore the fortunes of the BJP, with its workers suffering from a loss of morale and with the party mired in corruption scandals.

Yesterday Vajpayee said senior leaders, including Advani, would always be there to guide the party.

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