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India's Modi tightens grip on ruling party

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tightened his grip on the reins of power on Wednesday after the appointment of his most trusted aide, Amit Shah, as president of the ruling Hindu nationalist party.

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tightened his grip on the reins of power on Wednesday after the appointment of his most trusted aide, Amit Shah, as president of the ruling Hindu nationalist party.

Shah, who has known Modi since the 1980s in their home state of Gujarat, is seen as a shrewd political organiser and tactician credited with delivering Modi's huge election victory in May.

He is also controversial, having been censured during the election for inflammatory comments after anti-Muslim riots and he faces murder and extortion charges dating back to his time as home minister in Gujarat.

"From today and with immediate effect, Amit Shah will take over as the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) president," outgoing president Rajnath Singh, who has been named India's home minister, told reporters.

Modi and Singh congratulated Shah after the announcement at BJP headquarters in New Delhi, giving him a giant marigold garland and feeding him sweets in front of media in a traditional gesture of celebration.

"Amit Bhai started his journey as an ordinary Karyakarta (worker) & has repeatedly proven himself through tireless hard work & determination," Modi tweeted, adding that under Shah's leadership the party would become stronger.

Modi, who campaigned on a platform of clean government and economic development, won the biggest mandate in 30 years in the April-May national elections.

Shah, 50, is credited with clinching victory for the BJP in the electorally critical state of Uttar Pradesh where he was chief strategist.

Like Modi and Singh, the portly and bearded Shah rose through the ranks of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a grassroots organisation seen as the ideological fountainhead of the BJP, committed to defending India's Hindu culture.

Shah, who was appointed by the party's central parliamentary board, has denied criminal charges against him, including allegedly ordering extra-judicial killings carried out by police and running an extortion racket with police in Gujarat.

Political analyst Amulya Ganguli said Modi now had "virtual control over the party and government", adding that he had successfully removed the normally influential RSS from the decision-making process for party president.

"This is the first time that the RSS was not in the picture, something never seen before. Modi has established full control," Delhi-based Ganguli told AFP.

The appointment comes as the BJP gears up for elections in four states, including western Maharashtra and tense Jammu and Kashmir, the country's only Muslim-majority state.

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