India's Congress Party appears short of majority


NEW DELHI -- The vote counting in India's national election was headed toward completion late last night, but the serious politicking was just beginning.

With the Congress Party projected to fall about 25 to 30 seats short of a majority in India's Parliament, potential allies from among its left-wing opponents were sending strong signals that Congress will have to offer concessions in exchange for their support in forming a new government.

While those compromises were not spelled out yesterday, it appeared clear that Congress will not have a free hand in running the new government when it takes power.

An alliance with left-leaning political elements would probably restrict the new government's ability to negotiate with the International Monetary Fund for a badly needed loan.

India needs that aid soon to begin to resolve its deepening financial crisis. But to get the loan, the IMF is likely to insist on strong, immediate moves to liberalize the nation's shackled economy -- moves that India's leftists and Communists have not entirely supported.

Lurking behind any political alliances formed in the next week will be the possibility that they would not be durable enough to prevent the government from collapsing before completion of the new prime minister's five-year term -- thereby prompting another off-schedule election.

That was the case with India's last two governments, both led by minority parties.

And that was the fear articulated yesterday by Congress spokesmen, who also were talking of the need to compromise with their electoral opponents.

"If we have to form a minority government, we know that we have to try to form a durable government," said N. K. P. Salve, a Congress leader. "The last two governments collapsed. We need to avoid that. There has got to be some meeting of the minds."

Congress's choice for prime minister, which is not likely to be decided until later this week, also will have a major impact on the government's potential stability.

Although P. V. Narasimha Rao, the party's 70-year-old interim president, is the most likely compromise choice, many analysts believe that he can only last six months to a year until younger powers within the party topple him.

With winners declared in more than 70 percent of the election's 511 contests by 11 p.m. yesterday, Congress had won 179 seats.

Projections indicated that Congress and some smaller allies would eventually take about 230 seats.

As the vote counting went through its second day yesterday, support for Congress appeared higher in the second and third rounds of the polling -- held after the assasination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi -- than in the first round before his murder, indicating that his death may have generated a sympathy vote that helped Congress at the polls.

The second-largest bloc in India's Parliament likely will be made up of India's left-wing and Communist parties.

Many left-wing politicians are former Congress members, and there may even be an attempt now to woo some of them back.

The right-wing, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which gained more than any other party in the election, intends to sit in opposition -- waiting for India's next election, according to its long-term strategy.

BJP is projected to end up with about 120 seats in India's Parliament.

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