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BJP names Advani as its main opposition force; Vajpayee as elder

Tuesday 1 June 2004

Brushing off its election debacle, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Tuesday prepared for its new role as the main opposition in parliament that is scheduled to begin a new session Wednesday.

New Delhi, June 1 (IANS)

Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and former deputy prime minister L.K. Advani were Tuesday assigned new roles even as Vajpayee indicated he did not think the new Congress-led regime would last its full term.

At a meeting of new party MPs, Vajpayee, 79, was named BJP’s first parliamentary wing chairman - a new post - while Advani, 77, returned to his old role as leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament.

"On the basis of our experience as ruling party for six years, we should keep national interest in mind while playing the role of a constructive opposition," Advani told reporters, assuring that his party would play the role of a vigilant opposition while maintaining decorum of parliament.

But it was the former prime minister who, breaking his silence for the first time on the poll defeat, admitted it was the party’s overconfidence and complacence that had undone it.

"The reasons for the defeat have to be studied carefully," he told reporters.

Vajpayee pointed out that 90 sitting MPs of the party had lost the elections, while others who had served five to six terms had won. "Newcomers should learn lessons from this," he said.

Asked about the tenure of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, Vajpayee said: "We don’t want to be in the opposition for five years!"

The BJP also named former finance minister Jaswant Singh as the leader of the party in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house, simultaneously becoming the deputy leader of the BJP parliamentary party.

V.K. Malhotra will be the deputy leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, while Sushma Swaraj was appointed party deputy leader in the Rajya Sabha.

BJP chief M. Venkaiah Naidu proposed a change in the party constitution to create the new post of chairman, necessitated by Vajpayee’s desire to step back into the role of an elder statesman who would intervene only occasionally.

Despite being the odds-on favourites to win the general election, the BJP suffered a stunning defeat, winning only 138 seats, its lowest tally since 1996.

After the party’s defeat in the elections, where he was projected as the mascot of the BJP-led coalition, Vajpayee indicated he wanted Advani to steer the opposition attack, prompting the party to think of a role befitting the former prime minister’s stature.

BJP leaders say while Vajpayee was the undisputed leader of the coalition and adroitly kept it together, the BJP’s poll defeat has engendered the need for a strong organisation man like Advani at the helm.

Vajpayee, consequently, will be the chairman of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which however is already showing signs of unravelling in the aftermath of the defeat, with the BJP and its allies blaming each other.

BJP MPs indicated they intended to be aggressive, unrelenting and unforgiving against the Congress-led government, describing it as an unprincipled alliance remote controlled by the Left.


in The New Kerala, Tuesday, June 1, 2004.

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