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India's PM-Designate Pledges Balance Between Reform and Development - 2004-05-20

India's prime minister-designate Manmohan Singh is promising to balance economic reforms with development for the poverty-stricken. He also says he will continue the peace process with nuclear-rival Pakistan and seek harmony between India's religious communities.

A day after being named India's next prime minister, Manmohan Singh, says he will seek the "most friendly relations with our neighbors, more so with Pakistan than any other."

"It is not impossible. Who could have imagined some 15 years ago that the Berlin Wall would melt? Then the world saw what was impossible in international politics became a norm," he said. "It will be our effort, without sacrificing our national security imperatives, to create an environment to move forward."

The previous Hindu nationalist government had made great strides in the last year to improve relations with nuclear-rival Pakistan, with which India has fought three wars in five decades. In addition to continuing peace initiatives, Mr. Singh says his government will broaden the current economic development to raise living standards for farmers and other poorer segments of society through new investment in rural roads, schools and power supplies.

Mr. Singh's Congress Party scored a surprise victory in parliamentary elections despite the outgoing Hindu nationalists' government's strong economic record. Analysts say the Congress Party won because the current policies did not benefit the country's poorer people.

But Mr. Singh, the key figure in opening up India's once-closed socialist economy while finance minister in 1991, also promised to continue investor-friendly policies that have spurred India's economic growth in recent years.

He told reporters he does not believe the Congress Party's close alliance with leftist parties, particularly the Communists, is an obstacle to furthering pro business and investment policies.

"I do not see any problems in working out a program, which is forward-looking, which is progressive, which is growth oriented, which provides ample opportunities for the growth of enterprise, both domestic and foreign," he said.

Mr. Singh, who will be India's first Sikh prime minister in the predominantly Hindu nation, also pledged that his government would ensure harmony between India's religious communities. Mr. Singh was designated India's prime minister late Wednesday, after congress party leader Sonia Gandhi turned down the job. After resolving the leadership issue, the Congress Party is now in talks with allies to finalize the shape of the coalition government.