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Noted Economist Manmohan Singh Takes Office as India's New Prime Minister - 2004-05-22


In India, a well-known economist, Manmohan Singh, has been sworn in as the country's new prime minister. He will head a coalition government, led by the Congress Party, which defeated a Hindu nationalist-led coalition in recent parliamentary elections. The Congress Party is returning to power after eight years.

"I, Manmohan Singh, do swear in the name of God that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the constitution of India," India's new Prime Minister said during his swearing-in ceremony.

Manmohan Singh, 71, took the oath of office Saturday in New Delhi's imposing sandstone presidential palace, along with his team of ministers.

The Congress Party chose Mr. Singh to head India's new government, after the party's leader, Sonia Gandhi, turned down the post. Mr. Singh comes from the minority Sikh community, and will be first non-Hindu leader of the predominantly Hindu nation.

Thirteen years ago, the well-known economist put India's Socialist-style economy on the road to economic reform when he was finance minister.

This time, say analysts, the challenges for the low-profile technocrat will be both economic and political.

Mr. Singh must manage nearly a dozen parties that form his coalition, which has been named the United Progressive Alliance. He has already spent hours in tough bargaining with key allies on allocation of Cabinet posts. He is also expected to face pressure from leftist allies to roll back some free market reforms.

Independent political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan says the path ahead for the Congress Party and its allies will not be smooth.

"They do have stakes in making it work, but, yes, there will be conflict of interests," he said. "There will be divergences of interest, and there will be divergences on critical issues of policy."

The Congress Party is expected to keep key ministries such as defense, foreign and finance.

The Congress Party has also been finalizing a common policy agenda of its political and economic priorities with its allies. On the economic front, the new government promises to be market-friendly and pro-growth, but says it will focus on creation of new jobs and investment in the rural sector to benefit the country's poor population.

On foreign policy issues, it has promised to forge peace with Pakistan and pursue closer ties with the United States, but also pledges to maintain an independent foreign policy.

The Congress Party's victory over the Hindu nationalist-led coalition in recent parliamentary elections was unexpected. The party had ruled India for more than four decades following India's Independence in 1947. But this is the first time it is heading a coalition government.

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