Sun, May 23, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Singh sworn in as India's prime minister


This July 2003 file photo shows Marxist Somnath Chatterjee, left, addressing a meeting in Calcutta as Indian cricketer Sourav Ganguly, sitting. looks on. Chatterjee said yesterday that India's incoming government had offered him the parliament speakership.


Manmohan Singh, the Oxford-educated economist who crafted India's economic liberalization policies, was sworn in as prime minister yesterday, placing the Congress party back in control of the nation after eight years on the sidelines.

Singh, India's first prime minister to come from the country's influential Sikh minority, was sworn in by President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who is himself from India's large Muslim minority.

The Congress party, whose leader, Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, declined the top post last week, will lead a minority coalition after it ousted former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's Hindu-nationalist government in a tumultuous round of elections held over two months in April and May.

After several days of bargaining with coalition partners over key ministerial posts, the 71-year-old technocrat took the oath of office, dressed in a light blue Sikh turban and white, high-neck cotton tunic.

An estimated 68 other key allies were also being sworn in as Union Ministers by Kalam -- including Bollywood actor Sunil Dutt -- in a ceremony at his imposing, pink sandstone palace in the heart of New Delhi.

A Congress party official told reporters on condition of anonymity that the final list of Cabinet posts would not be made official until today. It has been widely reported that Singh himself would take on a dual role as both prime minister and finance minister, a position he held in the early 1990s under a previous Congress-led government.

Singh and Congress party president Sonia Gandhi have been meeting with leaders of different political parties to haggle over the number of spots each party would receive in the Cabinet.

Singh is expected to assign key ministries such as foreign affairs, defense and security to members of his own party, but leave several high-profile economic ministries like petroleum, communications and rural development for allies, the official said.

The partners were pleased with the results of the negotiations, which ended early yesterday, the official said.

On Friday, the leaders of the Congress-led group -- named the United Progressive Alliance, or UPA -- finished drafting an outline of the new government's political and economic priorities.

"The UPA government will give the highest priority to building closer political, economic and other ties with its neighbors in South Asia," said the draft, a copy of which was made available yesterday.

Efforts launched by the previous government to resolve India's decades-old dispute with Pakistan over the Himalayan region of Kashmir -- the cause of two wars between the nuclear rivals -- will be "pursued systematically and on a sustained basis," it said.

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