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Janata Split Leaves ex-Premier Gandhi as Kingmaker

November 5, 1990

NEW DELHI, India (AP) _ India’s governing party split Monday under pressure from three months of class and religious riots, stripping Prime Minister V.P. Singh of his chances to stay in office.

The split in Singh’s Janata Dal party put former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in the role of kingmaker - and conceivably of king - one year after leading his long-ruling Congress Party to defeat.

But with the nation in disarray and his own party still weak, Gandhi was unlikely to seek the prime minister’s post. Gandhi has indicated he will support Chandra Shekhar, leader of the faction breaking with Janata Dal.

The Hindu-Moslem tensions that helped precipitate the political crisis continued Monday. News agencies said 15 people died in three states, raising the two-week toll to more than 345 in clashes over Hundu efforts to seize a Moslem mosque and replace it with a temple.

New Delhi on Monday was paralyzed by a strike called by a fundamentalist Hindu party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, which supported the temple project and abandoned Singh’s government when he moved to stop it.

Police used tear gas and bamboo staves to break up unruly demonstrations and arrested 600 people on charges of rioting and arson, Press Trust of India reported.

The split in Singh’s party was engineered by Chandra Shekhar, a long-time rival of the prime minister’s, and by Devi Lal, a patrician farmer Singh fired as deputy prime minister last August.

While Singh chaired a meeting of his Parliamentarians Monday, the splinter group of 82 legislators met separately to elect Chandra Shekhar their leader, said a spokesman for the breakaway group, Harmohan Dhawan.

The splinter group agreed to request that President Ramaswami Venkataraman ask Chandra Shekhar to form a new government, according to Dhawan.

The exact breakdown in the new faction was not immediatedly clear, but Chandra Shekhar, who customarily uses both names, said he would submit to the president a list of Parliamentarians backing him.

Singh was to have faced a no-confidence vote in Parliament on Wednesday and there has been no word on whether or not the session will go ahead. Parliamentarians must now wait for the President to establish the procedure.

On Monday, Venkataraman accepted the resignations of six ministers from the 38-member Cabinet who split with Singh. The resignations were handed in over the past week.

Singh’s tailspin began in August when students poured into the streets to protest his plan to reserve nearly half of government jobs for low caste Hindus.

Nearly 150 people died over several weeks. About half the victims were students, mosly teen-agers, who committed suicide by burning themselves or by consuming poison.

A second dispute, which began as a clash over the mosque in the town of Ayodhya, fueled nationwide riots.

But on Sunday, Hindu fundamentalists agreed to call off their attempts to take over the mosque, which they believe stands on the birthplace of an important Hindu god.

Under a bargain struck with civil authorities, about 7,000 Hindus on Monday were allowed into a section of the mosque to recite prayers and sing hymns. At least 22 people were killed trying to storm the building last week.

Gandhi and Chandra Shekhar were to meet Tuesday, when they were to clear the way for the realignment in Parliament.

″We welcome the election of Chandra Shekhar as leader of the Janata Dal,″ said Congress Party spokesman V.N. Gadgil. He reiterated that his party would cooperate with any ″alternative leader.″

Gadgil declined to say whether the cooperation would be based on a specific program, or if policies would be discussed at the meeting.

Chandra Shekhar is scheduled to meet later Tuesday with Venkataraman.

A pact between the Janata Dal rebels and Congress would forestall the need for an immediate national election, which all parties except the Bharatiya Janata Party have said they wanted to avoid.

But it was uncertain how long the alliance could be expected to last.

Chandra Shekhar, 63, is a former Congress stalwart who, along with thousands of politicians, was jailed for 21 months by Gandhi’s mother, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, when she declared a state of emergency in 1977.

He has a reputation as a left-leaning activist for India’s impoverished masses. He has not, however, produced an economic program or offered policies on any other of India’s key issues, such as the separatist insurrections by Moslems in Jammu and Kashmir and by Sikhs in the state of Punjab.

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