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India's BJP picks cabinet minister Naidu for vice-president

By Mayank Bhardwaj

By Mayank Bhardwaj

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has named Cabinet minister M. Venkaiah Naidu as its candidate for vice president, senior officials have said, choosing a southerner to boost its political standing in a region where it lacks a base.

Naidu, a former BJP president, will face opposition nominee Gopalkrishna Gandhi, a grandson of independence hero Mahatma Gandhi, in an Aug. 5 parliamentary vote.

The position of the vice president, like that of the president, is largely ceremonial under India's constitution, in which the prime minister and his Cabinet colleagues wield executive power.

However, the vice president runs the Rajya Sabha, or the upper house of parliament, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government lacks a majority and has faced problems getting its legislative agenda through.

Modi said in a Twitter post late on Monday that Naidu, who ran the urban development ministry, would be a fitting candidate for the vice presidency. Lawmakers from the two houses of parliament take part in the Aug. 5 vote.

Naidu is considered a certainty to win because of the commanding majority the BJP and its allies enjoy in the 545-member lower house, which more than makes up for its weakness in the upper house.

Lawmakers voted on Monday to choose a new president, with the BJP's Ram Nath Kovind a clear favorite.

Kovind and Naidu have both been associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or the National Volunteer Corps, the ideological fountainhead of Hindu groups, early on in their political careers.

Naidu is from southern Andhra Pradesh state and political experts said his candidature was an attempt by the Modi government to ensure adequate representation in top public offices dominated by northerners.

The BJP is also aiming to expand its political base in the south from the Hindi heartland.

(Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Paul Tait)