BJP names Advani India’s oppn leader

Agence France Presse

New Delhi, June 1:

Lawmakers of India’s Hindu nationalists chose hawkish former deputy premier Lal Krishna Advani today as opposition leader. The election of Advani, 76, to lead the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the lower house of parliament came after media reports said former premier Atal Behari Vajpayee had rejected the job. Lawmakers named Vajpayee, 79, to the newly created post of chairman of the BJP parliamentary board, a largely symbolic role in which he would offer guidance as an elder statesman. “The elections were unanimous,” BJP party president Venkaiah Naidu said.

Despite his age, Advani has long held the title among India’s political and media pundits as Vajpayee’s “natural successor”. Former finance minister Jaswant Singh, 66, was chosen to be opposition leader in the upper house. While Vajpayee will still be an important political figure, he now wants to take more of a backseat, media reports say. But The Hindu newspaper said in an editorial he may not be able to leave the political stage so easily.

“As in government, so in opposition, the political fortunes of the alliance will depend on the future role played” by Vajpayee, it said. “It is a responsibility that he will have to continue to shoulder if the alliance is to play the part of a coherent and responsible opposition.” The BJP now is in a process of examining whether it should return to its Hindu hardline roots on which it originally rode to political centre stage. “A vocal section... has strongly advocated the abandonment of the moderate Vajpayee line,” noted The Hindu.