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Gandhi Moves Closer to Becoming Indian Prime Minister - 2004-05-15


In India, newly-elected Congress Party lawmakers have chosen Sonia Gandhi as their leader, virtually assuring that a foreign-born woman will become the next prime minister of the world's largest democracy. The party's political allies are also expected to endorse her for the country's top job.

Sonia Gandhi's unanimous election Saturday as leader of the Congress Party's parliamentary group came as no surprise. The party has repeatedly said it wants her to become the country's next prime minister.

Leftist parties, whose support for a Congress-led coalition government will be crucial, said Saturday that they, too, would back her for the country's top job.

And other political parties that fought the election, as allies of the Congress Party are soon expected to give Mrs. Gandhi their approval.

The 57-year-old is the widow of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. She is a Christian in this predominately-Hindu nation, and was born in Italy. The party did not announce its prime ministerial candidate before the election, fearing the fact that she is not a native Indian might be an issue with some voters or politicians.

But political analyst Prem Shankar Jha says her dramatic victory has swept aside all objections to her foreign origins.

"The Left has already said that they have no objection, and other potential allies ? have also withdrawn whatever objection they have," he said.

In an address to lawmakers after her election Saturday, Mrs. Gandhi pledged to work closely with other parties to give the country a strong government.

"The commitment to provide a purposeful, effective government focused on accelerating employment, growth and investment, unite all of us in this coalition," she said.

Meanwhile, Congress Party supporters continued celebrations for the third day outside Mrs. Gandhi's home, to mark the party's return to power after eight years.

They danced, beat drums and shouted slogans in praise of the leader who scored the completely unexpected victory that swept the Hindu nationalist coalition of the Bharatiya Janata Party out of office.

Mrs. Gandhi took control of the Congress Party six years ago when it was floundering. Her election would mark the return of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, which has ruled India for a total of nearly four decades since the country's Independence in 1947.

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