The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Broom in hand, Rajnath begins

New Delhi, Jan. 2: Rajnath Singh formally took over the BJP’s reigns today with a message that should not upset the RSS ' no compromise on ideology, corruption and indiscipline.

Rajnath’s first decision as party president would be to expel from the BJP the six former MPs caught taking bribe on camera in the cash-for-questions scandal, sources said.

In an interview to The Telegraph soon after he took over, Rajnath did not comment directly on the issue but statements conveyed an unambiguous stand. “We will deal with corruption with a firm hand. It is not my place to tell you how to interpret this statement,” Rajnath said.

There has been considerable resentment within the RSS over L.K. Advani’s political handling of the cash-for-questions scandal and Rajnath seems determined to set the record straight.

The new BJP president said he would take another week to put together a new team of office-bearers. “You will not see many changes. That is all that I can tell you. The team will be decided after due consultations within a period of a week to 10 days.”

Party insiders indicated that senior RSS functionary Bal Apte is tipped to be the new interface between the Sangh and the BJP after Sanjay Joshi’s disgraceful exit from the party.

Apte’s inclusion is significant because he is too senior in the party hierarchy to be a general secretary. Apte is currently a vice-president in the BJP. “He could be a senior vice-president with an overall charge of organisational affairs. The Sangh could depute a junior pracharak to do the day-to-day work,” said a party functionary.

Rajnath, however, refused to deny or confirm this. “Once we have formed a new team, we will let you know,” he said.

If another RSS pracharak assists Apte, it will mean that the BJP, for the first time, will have two RSS functionaries in its team of national office-bearers.

Another significant change in Rajnath’s team could be M. Venkaiah Naidu’s exit. Naidu has been the president of the BJP and he is not expected to hold a position that is below the rank of Rajnath.

The rest of his team, said sources, would be more or less similar with all prominent leaders ' Arun Jaitley, Pramod Mahajan and Sushma Swaraj ' finding a place.

A key issue Rajnath will be expected to deal with at a later date is Uma Bharti. Interestingly, Rajnath did not deny the possibility of reconsidering the party’s decision on Uma. “The party’s parliamentary board has already taken a decision on that issue. What is there for me to say'” Rajnath asked.

However, Uma does not seem to be in a mood to relent even after the change of guard in the BJP. Her loyalist Prahlad Patel held a media conference in the capital soon after Rajnath took over to allege that the BJP had lost “all sense of direction”.

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