Gandhi to take office on Wednesday

Indian prime minister-elect Sonia Gandhi and her government will probably be sworn in on Wednesday after a hectic weekend sealing deals with allies and new partners.

    Gandhi is set to become her family's fourth prime minister

    Italian-born Gandhi will meet President Abd al-Kalam on

    Monday armed with letters of support from several parties to

    stake her claim to government after ousting the ruling Hindu

    nationalists in India's biggest election upset last week


    Leftist parties, which won a pivotal 60-plus seats in the

    election have pledged their support for Gandhi, but were

    debating on Sunday whether to formally join her coalition or

    simply back it from outside.

    The communists are also discussing a joint economic policy

    with an eye to reassuring investors after the rupee and shares

    crashed on Friday to their lowest in months.

    "I thank the people of India from my heart. We have

    succeeded against all odds, we have prevailed despite all

    predictions of disaster"

    Sonia Gandhi,
    Indian PM-elect

    Gandhi's Congress party has secured enough support from its

    allies almost to guarantee she will be the next prime minister

    - and India's first foreign-born leader.

    She will also be the

    family's fourth prime minister after her slain husband, Rajiv,

    mother-in-law Indira and Indira's father Jawaharlal Nehru.

    Hectic negotiations

    Despite routing Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and his

    Bharatiya Janata Party, Congress fell short of a majority in

    the 545-seat parliament and Gandhi has been in hectic

    negotiations to settle on the size and shape of her coalition.

    So far, the left is divided on whether to join Gandhi. Some

    communist groups are in direct opposition to the Congress at

    the state level.

    However, their support is critical. The leading leftist group, the

    Communist Party of India (Marxist) is the largest in the new

    parliament, with 43 seats, after Congress and the BJP.

    "I thank the people of India from my heart. We have

    succeeded against all odds, we have prevailed despite all

    predictions of disaster," Gandhi said on Saturday after

    Congress chose her as its parliamentary chief


    "There is now a momentum generated by our revival, let us

    not squander it. We must utilise it as a catalyst for change."

    Congress, which first put India on the path to reform by

    ditching its socialist economics a decade ago, has pledged to

    continue Vajpayee's programme of economic modernisation, but

    with "a human face".

    Investor fears

    But investors fear the leftists will block or slow reforms,

    especially the sale of bloated, monolithic state firms.

    India's poverty-stricken masses 
    made Vajpayee pay with his job  

    The communists, who have copied Chinese-style reforms in

    the states they govern, tried to appease markets on Saturday,

    saying they welcomed foreign investment and realised no

    country could quarantine itself from the globalised economy


    Analysts also expect Gandhi's government to repackage the

    reforms after India's hundreds of millions of poor punished

    Vajpayee and the BJP for failing to pass on the benefits of a

    booming economy, which instead went mainly to the relatively

    small urban middle class.

    Gandhi's victory marked not just the revival of India's

    oldest party, but of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty as well, with the

    political debut of her son, Rahul, and daughter, Priyanka.

    Rahul Gandhi easily won his seat in the family borough.

    Priyanka did not stand, but played a major role in campaigning.

    In all, the family has ruled the world's second most

    populous nation for 35 of the 57 years since independence.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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