- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 23, 2009

NEW DELHI | Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was sworn in for a second term Friday, even as talks broke down between his party and a key coalition partner.

President Pratibha Patil, dressed in an elaborate white, green and gold sari, administered the oath of office to Mr. Singh and his core Cabinet in a formal ceremony at New Delhi’s imposing red-stone presidential palace.

Only 19 senior ministers were sworn in, with several more expected to take the oath next week in a second ceremony, according to a statement from Mr. Singh’s office.

The delay was apparently to allow Mr. Singh’s Congress party time to complete coalition negotiations with some of its allies. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), a regional party from southern India, walked out of talks after Congress failed to agree to its demands, said T.R. Baalu, a senior party member. Party leader Muthuvel Karunanidhi and his large entourage packed their bags and flew out of New Delhi early Friday.

Congress still has enough support to govern without the DMK, the third-largest party in the coalition, but was eager to keep their alliance intact to guarantee the stability of the new government.

Mr. Singh, 76, wearing his trademark blue turban, swore to “preserve, protect and defend the constitution,” and to “devote myself to the service and well-being of the people of the Republic of India.”

A mild-mannered former economist with a reputation for honesty, Mr. Singh was thrust into the position of prime minister in 2004 when Italian-born Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi declined the position and picked him.

He has since contended with charges of being Mrs. Gandhi’s puppet and doubts over his health after heart surgery earlier this year.

Mr. Singh said his government’s priority would be to focus on the economy in the face of the global slowdown.

“[The] first task is to restore the economy and its growth momentum,” Mr. Singh told reporters after the ceremony.

Much of Congress’ success in the election has been attributed to 9 percent yearly growth during Mr. Singh’s first term and the perception that the party worked to share the wealth with India’s millions of poor.

The Cabinet portfolios of the 19 ministers were not announced, but they included several senior members of the previous administration, including Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Defense Minister A.K. Antony and Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram.

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