New Delhi: Months after accusations broke claiming that he had misused his position as public works minister in Maharashtra, Nitin Gadkari is out as president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
A combination of internal politicking and the increasing embarrassment of having a leader facing income tax raids seems to have caused the BJP and its parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), to decide to replace him with Rajnath Singh, the former Uttar Pradesh chief minister whom Mr Gadkari had succeeded in December 2009.
The RSS has fought a desperate rearguard action in defence of Mr Gadkari, widely seen as its nominee to the party leadership, ever since the allegations broke — a scorched-earth defence that sits extremely awkwardly with its claim to be a social organisation interested in the restoration and renovation of India's ethical core.
The biggest loser, aside from Mr Gadkari, in the confusion of the past months has been the RSS' credibility.
The BJP has lost a signal opportunity to define itself as clearly distinct from the hopelessly dynastic and sycophantic Congress party.
Rahul Gandhi's elevation to the vice-presidency of the Congress last weekend was a spectacle that met with tears inside the auditorium in Jaipur and, largely, jeers outside.
The BJP, if suffering through a leadership vacuum, should have seized the moral high ground by demonstrating that it is still the party of internal democracy that it once claimed to be. However, the leaders of the RSS and powerful power blocs within the party seemed to have other plans, and have made Mr Gadkari's transition out of power messier than it should have been.
In the BJP's confusion, the question must again be asked: what is the point of retaining the umbilical cord to the RSS if it cannot even provide stability? Clearly, the RSS is uninterested in ensuring that the BJP's leadership meets ethical standards, nor is it interested in allowing it internal democracy.
If it cannot even manage a leadership transition well, why does the BJP persist in allowing the RSS to choose its leadership?
Of course, the presidency of the BJP has become, to an extent, a ceremonial post. But that it is so reflects the inability of the party in the post-Vajpayee era to throw up a unifying leader. Under such circumstances, the BJP's president becomes the fulcrum for power games, the tiebreaker and agenda setter.
And Rajnath Singh's previous tenure as BJP president, between 2006 and 2009, was distinguished by his signal inability to drag the BJP into the modern era sufficiently to seem a credible alternative to the Congress in 2009 as a party of government and reform. Observers have so far been given no reason to suppose that Mr Singh, still preoccupied by social issues, will be able to do a different job in the run-up to 2014.
If the BJP finds itself unable to declare a single prime ministerial candidate for that general election – or the RSS does not permit it to – then Mr Singh will be particularly influential in setting the party's agenda in that campaign. It is to be hoped that the United Progressive Alliance's mismanagement of the economy and tardy as well as half-hearted embrace of reform will cause the BJP – and Mr Singh – to position itself differently.
But that would require, once again, a long-delayed divorce from the RSS.