India's Congress Party Plans Post-Election Moves

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AS election results streamed in yesterday, the Congress (I) Party stood poised to form India's next government.

But Congress's scramble to find political allies and a credible successor to former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi indicate that both the party and the nation are still searching for political direction.

The Congress is expected to win the most parliamentary seats but narrowly miss a majority after the turbulent election. The right-wing Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is likely to be the second largest party. With results for two-thirds of the seats declared, the Congress has captured 163; the BJP has 71, and the left-leaning Janata Dal 21.

Even before the final results were announced Congress leaders were meeting to discuss post-election strategies. Some Congress officials favor a ruling coalition with other parties; others say Congress should form a minority government supported from the outside. Political analysts say the Congress wants to attract defectors from other parties and build a center-left bulwark against the BJP. But a minority government strategy runs the risk of further instability.

"With Rajiv Gandhi gone, the chemistry of the Congress Party and the attitudes toward it have changed," says B. G. Verghese, a political analyst at New Delhi's Center for Policy Research. "The party will be more open and those sympathetic to Congress will be more willing to work with it."

The poll's outcome is a political crazy-quilt mirroring the uncertainties and realignments of India's political system.

In some southern, western, and eastern states, Mr. Gandhi's assassination triggered a strong sympathy vote, surprising many political analysts.

Emotions, however, weren't strong enough in the northern, Hindi-speaking belt where Congress fell to two stunning defeats. In Uttar Pradesh, India's largest state and political cornerstone, the BJP triumphed and is expected to take control of the state government. In Bihar, the Congress was overwhelmed by the Janata Dal, which is part of a left-wing coalition headed by former prime minister V. P. Singh.

The election was also a mixed bag for the Congress's two main rivals. Singh's Janata Dal suffered heavy losses, but with communist allies could be a stronger parliamentary force than the BJP.

THE BJP scored a commanding victory in Uttar Pradesh and made an inroad in the south. …