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Leaders of India's Major Political Coalitions Seek Allies While Awaiting Election Results - 2004-05-12

Indian political leaders are jockeying for coalition partners a day before results are expected in the parliamentary election. Polls suggest that the prime minister's ruling coalition may not win the easy victory it had expected - and a hung Parliament could be the result.

After five days of voting staggered over three weeks, analysts say India's parliamentary election is still an open race. Leaders of the two major coalitions are trying to woo potential allies to form the next government.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee called the election six months early to take advantage of his ruling coalition's recent popularity. The National Democratic Alliance, or NDA, has overseen India's emergence as one of the world's fastest growing economies.

The prime minister's Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, which heads the alliance, coined the slogan "India Shining" to capitalize on its image as the party for a modern and globally competitive nation. But Sukh Deo Muni, a politics professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, says the slogan failed to resonate with India's millions of poor.

"They thought the 'India Shining' kind of an image would work and they thought the opposition was in total disarray, they don't have a leadership pattern, and the feel-good factors amongst the middle class would click. Somehow it hasn't," he said.

The race now boils down to a numbers game. The NDA or a coalition formed by its main rival, the Congress Party, needs 272 out of 543 seats to control Parliament. Three different exit polls have suggested the NDA may win about 250 seats, down from the 302 it controlled ahead of the election.

Those projections have rattled India's financial markets - with investors fearing that a new government may derail the economic liberalization measures the NDA has implemented.

Mr. Muni says there is nothing to fear.

"There may be a little redefinition of the content of the reform package," he said. "There are minor points of emphasis here and there. (But) there is absolutely no doubt or suspicion about the direction of the economy."

Election results are expected Thursday.