Former Indian Prime Minister to retire from politics

Former Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has announced he is to retire from active politics. He told a rally of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the western city of Mumbai (Bombay) that he would not contest the next general election.

Mr Vajpayee, 81, helped found the BJP and led a coalition government for six years until electoral defeat in 2004. His surprise announcement comes two days before the expected resignation of the current BJP president, LK Advani. They have both promised to continue to act as advisers as the party enters its new era.

Mr Vajpayee handed over the party presidency to Mr Advani, another party founder, after losing the general election in June 2004. He remained a senior leader but has been winding down his role.

"I will not participate in any electoral politics. There are many other leaders to take forward the work which I and other senior leaders have been doing," Mr Vajpayee told the Mumbai rally.

He said he would not be resigning from his seat in Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh immediately. The BBC's Zubair Ahmed in Mumbai, where the BJP is holding its silver jubilee celebrations, says party workers were genuinely taken aback by the announcementm, reports BBC news. I.L.

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