India's Congress To Pick Allies After Election Win
Sunday, 17 May 2009

India's ruling Congress-led alliance, toasting a sweeping victory in a general election, began choosing on Sunday a small group of allies to support the coalition and focus on reviving a slowing economy.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's coalition defied predictions of a tight election and was only just short of an outright majority from the 543 seats at stake, according to data from the election commission.

In a country where unwieldy coalitions were becoming the order of the day and hobbling policy, the electoral verdict this time means Congress will call the shots in coalition building rather than being dependent on the goodwill of regional parties.

Singh's coalition has the freedom to choose from a couple of small parties and independents to secure a workable parliamentary majority.

"The election has led to a stable government that will not have to succumb endlessly to the irritations of coalition politics and the threat of a mid-term breakdown," political commentator Swapan Dasgupta wrote in Times of India newspaper.

"Secondly, it has produced a broad national mandate and not been reduced to a clumsy aggregate of different state elections."

Congress's policy-making body was meeting on Sunday to discuss inducting possible allies and the formation of a cabinet.

"There is a strong feeling among party workers that only those parties which went with us in pre-poll alliance should be considered," senior party official Prithviraj Chavan told reporters.

The Congress leadership was also expected to discuss a cabinet role for Rahul Gandhi, heir apparent of the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty, who is seen as the architect of the Congress party's resurgence, particularly in the northern states.

Though Singh, 76, will retain his office now, Gandhi is projected as a potential future prime minister.

The cabinet was also expected to include several youthful Congress leaders, as part of Gandhi's campaign for a greater role for young leaders.

Among the first major challenges facing the government is to stick to its own deadline of presenting the 2009/10 budget by end-June, setting the policy contours at a time when the economy is facing a severe slowdown and millions of jobs have been lost.

The challenge is also to find resources to fund its ambitious development programs without further hurting an already yawning budget deficit.

The Congress win should boost investor confidence and hopes for reforms. Markets had been jittery over a poor showing by the main national alliance and the emergence of a weak coalition.

Pakistan will top the foreign policy agenda of the new administration, with the United States expected to renew calls to New Delhi to reduce tensions with its neighbor to help stabilize the situation there.

Ties with Pakistan have been in deep-freeze since an attack on Mumbai by Pakistan-based militants last November.


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