NEW DELHI – India’s main opposition party has elected a new leader after the scandal-tainted incumbent resigned abruptly following a corruption scandal just over a year before national elections.
Nitin Gadkari, president of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party since 2009, stepped down late Tuesday over a probe into alleged misuse of funds for irrigation work in the western state of Maharashtra. He is widely seen as having failed to rejuvenate the BJP, which has been out of power since 2004. The disorderly transition at the top is seen as a further blow as the party looks toward elections in early 2014.
The BJP on Wednesday hastily appointed former party chief Rajnath Singh, a 61-year-old veteran lawmaker and former state leader who served as BJP president from 2005 to 2009, before Gadkari took over. Singh’s new term will end in 2015.
Gadkari said he had decided to quit after income tax officers raided 11 offices in Mumbai on Tuesday to investigate funds generated by his company, but he denounced the probe as “a political conspiracy” hatched by the ruling Congress party.
Last year, Gadkari was accused of using his political clout to acquire land at below the market rate for the construction of a dam. Investigators are also conducting a financial probe of the Purti Group, a company headed by Gadkari that has offices all over India.
In many instances, details of directors and addresses of companies that have invested in the Purti Group have turned out to be false, with Gadkari’s drivers, cook and house help shown as investors in the company.
“I have done nothing wrong, but I have chosen to resign because I do not want the party’s image to be maligned,” Gadkari said. “I will come back only when my name is cleared from the corruption cases.”