India's main opposition hit by resignation over corruption scandal

NEW DELHI (AFP) - India's main opposition party is set to elect a new leader today after the scandal-tainted incumbent resigned over a corruption scandal just over a year before national elections.

Mr Nitin Gadkari, president of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) since 2009, stepped down late on Tuesday over a probe into alleged misuse of funds for irrigation work in the western state of Maharashtra.

Mr Gadkari is widely seen as having failed to rejuvenate the BJP, which has been out of power since 2004, and the disorderly transition at the top is a further blow as the party looks ahead to elections in early 2014.

"Senior BJP leader Rajnath Singh will be the next party president," a top party figure said on condition of anonymity, referring to the 61-year-old former party president from 2005 to 2009.

The Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) woes come as the ruling Congress named Mr Rahul Gandhi, the scion of Gandhi political dynasty, as its vice-president at the weekend. He is now expected to lead the party into the polls.

The BJP has generally failed to capitalise on a string of corruption scandals that have afflicted the Congress government led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh since its re-election in 2009.

It is also seen as riven with internal power struggles, with controversial regional leader Narendra Modi pushing hard to be the 2014 prime ministerial candidate, which is being resisted by other factions.

Mr Modi, whose image remains tarnished by religious riots in his home state of Gujarat in 2002, inspires loyalty from Hindu right-wingers and business groups, but others fear he is a polarising figure who does not have broad appeal.

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