Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

India: Grudge-Match Politics? Coalition Government Fell Saturday without Any Galvanizing Issues -

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

India: Grudge-Match Politics? Coalition Government Fell Saturday without Any Galvanizing Issues -

Article excerpt

A persnickety former actress, a party of untouchables, and an Italian-born widow of a former prime minister with the golden name of Gandhi all combined over the weekend to bring down India's 13-month- old ruling coalition by a single vote, making it the fourth government to fall in India in three years.

Sonia Gandhi and her Congress Party are the big winners following the collapse of the first-ever Hindu nationalist coalition in India, which came to power with a bang last spring when it tested a set of nuclear weapons. After Saturday's vote, Indian President K.R. Narayanan asked Mrs. Gandhi, who married into India's dynastic family in the 1970s, to form a government in the world's largest democracy.

Gandhi and her advisers will negotiate with a plethora of tiny parties, each with its own high-decibel demands, and decide whether to form a new coalition - or whether to call for entirely new elections to be held next fall. It is not yet clear whether Gandhi herself - who in recent months has adopted the speech mannerisms and hairstyle of her late mother-in-law, former prime minister Indira Gandhi - will seek the prime-minister position. Sources say she had hoped for several more months to consolidate her position and platform, including how to present herself, a Roman Catholic, to a largely Hindu electorate. Congress supporters are quick to say that Saturday's vote in the Lok Sabha, India's lower house, is a shining example of democracy in action. It marks a healthy development of local politics, they say, since the vote is based on politicians playing more to personal or regional interests than national ones. BUT the fall of yet another government seems a sharp blow to India's efforts to present itself as a stable state that is a good investment risk. Not even India's missile test last week was enough to rally the coalition. It brought instead answering missile tests from Pakistan. Saturday's vote stings more, given that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in recent months had been finding steadier reins. He has brought more efficiency to the bureaucracy and acted as a moderating force among the hard-liners in his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). …

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