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Ruling Coalition in India Collapses Ensuring the Third Change in Government in Less Than Two

November 28, 1997

Ruling Coalition in India Collapses Ensuring the Third Change in Government in Less Than Two Years

``We have withdrawn support to the United Front government under I.K. Gujral. We have communicated this to the president,″ Congress chief Sitaram Kesri said, referring to the country’s prime minister.

Gujral’s aides have said he would resign once the Congress Party officially withdrew support. Kesri did not immediately say whether Congress would stake a claim to form the next government.

Kesri met with President K.R. Narayanan at the presidential palace earlier Friday. Soon after he left, Gujral arrived to attend an official dinner Narayanan was hosting for Indian judges.

Congress accuses a member of Gujral’s 14-party United Front member of supporting rebels linked to the 1991 assassination of party leader and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Congress and the Front came together in 1996 to keep the Hindu fundamentalist Bharatiya Janata Party from forming a government. Elections that could result from Congress withdrawing support are likely to benefit the BJP, political analysts say,

The weeklong political crisis leading to Kesri’s announcement Friday has paralyzed the government, delayed voting on legislation, rattled the stock and currency markets and fueled speculation that elections may be held three years early.

Narayanan could ask Kesri to prove he has the strenght to form the next government in a confidence vote in Parliament.

Speaker Purno Sangma met with leaders of all 29 parties in Parliament Friday, and said he had decided to reconvene the assembly Tuesday. Last Monday, he suspended the assembly indefinitely because of unruliness.

Sangma said the first order of business would be a confidence motion on Gujral’s government. That motion could be moot, as Gujral’s allies say he will resign once Congress has formally withdrawn support.

Without Congress, which has suppored him without joining his Cabinet, Gujral’s government will fall. Unless Congress or another party can get the parliamentary support to replace it, new parliamentary elections will be required three years ahead of schedule.

Congress was apparently hoping to draw supporters for its own coalition government from Gujral’s United Front.

The United Front has said it was ready to face elections, although neither it nor the Congress Party wants to give the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party _ their common foe _ a chance to win a vote.

One Front leader, former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, told an Indian news agency Friday that the coalition will try to persuade Narayanan to order fresh elections if the prime minister sends in his resignation.

The United Front would not support any political party trying to put together a new coalition because it believes the solution to the present crisis lies in fresh elections, United News of India quoted Gowda as saying.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, the largest in the current parliament, said it had asked its members to prepare for elections.

Congress triggered the crisis by demanding the United Front drop the Dravida Progressive Party, a coalition partner accused of supporting the suspected assassins of Gandhi, who was killed by a suicide bomber in 1991.

But the United Front refused to bow to the demand.

The last elections, in May 1996, left no party with the simple majority in Parliament. Since then, India has suffered a series of indecisive, unstable minority or coalition governments.

The Congress Party, which ruled India for 45 of the 50 years, lost power two years ago. It is now the second largest party in the 545-member, decision-making lower house, with 138 seats. The Hindu nationalists have 162 seats.

Recent corruption scandals have tainted the party, associated with some of India’s best-known prime ministers: Jawaharlal Nehru, his daughter, Indira Gandhi, and grandson, Rajiv Gandhi.

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