Saturday, May 22, 2004

NEW DELHI — Manmohan Singh, the Oxford-educated economist responsible for India’s sweeping economic liberalization policies, was sworn in as prime minister yesterday, placing the Congress party back in control of the nation after eight years.

Mr. Singh, Hindu-majority India’s first prime minister from the Sikh minority, was sworn in by President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, a Muslim.

Mr. Singh’s move to the top job ended a week of political turmoil in which Congress leader Sonia Gandhi, widow of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, declined the post.

The shift in leadership came after Congress ousted Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s Hindu-nationalist government in elections held in stages during April and May.

With Mrs. Gandhi looking on, Mr. Singh, 71, took the oath of office dressed in a light blue turban and white, high-neck cotton tunic.

Mr. Kalam also swore in 28 members of Mr. Singh’s Cabinet and another 40 ministers of state and junior ministers in a ceremony at the pink sandstone presidential palace in the heart of New Delhi. The group included seven women and Bollywood film star Sunil Dutt.

“The Cabinet is a reflection of India’s diversity and richness,” Mr. Singh said afterward. He acknowledged there were “difficulties in finalizing the Cabinet” and said portfolios would be announced today.

“The government will be stable. We’ll be working on that,” Mrs. Gandhi told reporters later.

It was widely reported that Mr. Singh might assume a dual role as prime minister and finance minister, a position he held in a Congress government from 1991-96. During that time, he brought about the most wide-ranging finance and economic policy changes in the nation’s history. He opened up long-isolated India to outside investment and began a process of dismantling decades of socialist economic policies.

Because Congress failed to gain an outright majority in the 545-seat Parliament, it will be forced to rely on two powerful communist parties for support from outside the coalition. That prospect spooked investors, causing them to send the Bombay Stock Exchange index to an all-time low on fears the communists would slow economic reforms.

Markets have since stabilized, however, with Mr. Singh assuring investors that India would remain pro-growth.

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