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Indian Political Opposition Gets New Chief

India's former deputy prime minister, Lal Krishna Advani, has taken charge of the opposition Hindu nationalist party five months after it was unexpectedly voted out of power. The party appears to be at a crossroad.

Amid applause, former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, told a Bharatiya Janata Party meeting in New Delhi Wednesday that its new leader, Lal Krishna Advani, will show the party the way ahead.

The high-profile Mr. Advani - chosen as the BJP's new president last week - admits times are difficult for the Hindu nationalists.

Mr. Advani tells his party members the electoral reverses were a huge setback after six years in power. He says his party must search for the answers.

In May, the BJP suffered a shock defeat to the Congress Party in national polls, after campaigning on a platform of good governance and economic prosperity. Earlier this month it was also soundly beaten in key regional elections in the western Maharashtra state.

The humiliating electoral defeats have revived a debate within the BJP whether it should return to the aggressive Hindu nationalist agenda, which helped it gain massive support in the 1990s or seek a more moderate face to win over liberal Indians.

Mr. Advani, widely regarded as a hard line Hindu leader, appears to be ready to go back to what worked before. He told the party that the BJP would remain committed to building a Hindu temple on the ruins of a mosque in North India.

The party rose to prominence on the back of this controversial goal 15 years ago, by rallying Hindus behind it.

But political observers say the BJP will have to dump Hindu-based issues and look at real problems such as development and unemployment if it wants to come back to power.

Political analyst Subhash Kashyap, with the independent Center for Policy Research, says despite the rhetoric Mr. Advani is likely to adopt a moderate course for the party.

"They have been struggling to find a way out. If they can project the image of a clean party, then perhaps there may be hope," he said. "The question is the problems of the people, which transcend caste and community. That has become the issue, development has become the issue."

For the time being, analysts say Mr. Advani's main task will be to boost the sagging morale of the BJP. He has been its leader twice in the past and is credited with helping it gain national prominence.