Thursday, May 13, 2004

One Right Wing Group Out, A Few More To Go...

India's president accepts Prime Minister Vajpayee's resignation

NEW DELHI (AP) - Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee resigned Thursday after his governing coalition lost the parliamentary election, ending his nearly six years in power.

Vajpayee's resignation was accepted by President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam at the ornate presidential palace, said the president' secretary, S.M. Khan.

"The resignation has been accepted and he has been asked to continue till an alternative arrangement is made," Khan said.

The meeting lasted 15 minutes, and Vajpayee was accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani, Press Trust of India news agency reported.

When the new Parliament convenes, possibly next week, Vajpayee will become the leader of the opposition and remain the leader of the National Democratic Alliance of 11 parties with whom he governed and fought the election, said Health Minister Sushma Swaraj, speaking after a cabinet meeting.

The opposition Congress party and its allies had earlier claimed victory and declared that party leader Sonia Gandhi would be the next prime minister, after early results showed the party and its allies were ahead of Vajpayee's 11-member National Democratic Alliance.

Before the five-phased elections, which began April 20, Vajpayee and his alliance had been expected to win enough seats to eventually form a government and rule the country for another five years.

It was an embarrassing defeat for Vajpayee's Hindu nationalist-led government, which had called elections six months early because it felt confident of winning an even bigger majority in Parliament, based on a booming economy and prospects of peace with Pakistan.

But Congress focused its campaign on the country's 300 million people who still live on less than a dollar a day. It hammered away at the lack of even basic infrastructure, electricity and potable water for millions of rural poor.

A leader in Vajpayee's coalition said the results were "totally against our expectations."

Gandhi has pushed for a secular India in contrast to the BJP's Hindu nationalist message. Her two children, Rahul and Priyanka, are up-and-coming politicians and Rahul expects to be elected to parliament on Thursday.

The Gandhi dynasty dominated Indian politics since independence from British colonial rule in 1947. Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister, headed the country from independence until his 1964 death. He was followed by his daughter, Indira Gandhi, who was killed by her own bodyguards in 1984.

Rajiv, her son and Sonia's husband, took power and ruled until 1989. Two years later, he too was assassinated.


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