- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 19, 2004

NEW DELHI — Manmohan Singh, the architect of India’s economic reforms, was named prime minister yesterday, ending weeks of political turmoil that culminated with Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi’s refusal to take the post.

Mr. Singh and Mrs. Gandhi met last night with President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who approved Mr. Singh’s bid to form a minority government.

“I am happy to inform the nation the president has invited me to form the next government,” Mr. Singh said after emerging from Mr. Kalam’s ornate, colonial-era palace.

Mrs. Gandhi was by his side, and they appeared at ease, laughing when reporters shouted questions at them.

The Congress party had elected Mr. Singh its leader in Parliament earlier yesterday after Mrs. Gandhi refused to reverse her decision not to become India’s prime minister.

Several members from Hindu nationalist parties had threatened to boycott Parliament if Italian-born Mrs. Gandhi became the prime minister, even though she has been an Indian citizen since 1983.

A senior Congress leader said Mr. Singh would be sworn in today or Saturday. Tomorrow, he said, is an auspicious date on the Hindu calendar, but it also is the 13th anniversary of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi’s husband — therefore unsuitable for the ceremony.

The Congress party had been thrown into turmoil by Mrs. Gandhi’s surprise decision to not serve at a time when it should have been basking in the glory of its shocking election victory last week.

Party workers nationwide held sit-ins and marched in the streets. They burned effigies of the Hindu nationalist leaders of the outgoing government and, in some instances, burned tires in the roads to block traffic.

Violence erupted soon after the news that Mrs. Gandhi and her senior aides had swung their support to Mr. Singh, a former finance minister widely credited for transforming India into a regional economic power.

Outraged party workers broke into the Congress headquarters, next to Mrs. Gandhi’s house in the capital, knocking down doors and smashing windows as they demanded that she change her mind. By the afternoon, more than 1,000 people had gathered outside.

Mr. Singh is a veteran of Indian politics. The Oxford-educated economist was the architect of the nation’s free-market reforms of the early 1990s. His admirers credit him with helping to save the country’s socialist-style economy from near-collapse at the time.

The Congress-led alliance did not win an outright majority in Parliament and must form a minority government relying on the support of two powerful communist parties, raising fears of instability and a backtrack on plans to sell off state-owned companies.

Yesterday, the communists acknowledged past differences with Mr. Singh’s economic policies. But they stressed that their primary aim is to have a secular government to replace outgoing Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s Hindu nationalists.

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