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Indian President Asks Manmohan Singh to Form New Government - 2004-05-19


In India, former finance minister Manmohan Singh will be the country's next prime minister as head of a Congress Party led coalition government. The decision came after party leader Sonia Gandhi rejected fresh appeals to take the job.

President Abdul Kalam invited Congress Party leader Manmohan Singh to form India's next government, after the 71-year-old economist formally staked his claim to power late Wednesday. "I am happy to inform the nation that the president has invited me to form the next government," he said.

Mr. Singh's brief announcement ended a week of political drama that began with the surprise victory of the Congress party over Hindu nationalists in parliamentary elections, raised the prospect of India getting its first foreign-born prime minister in Sonia Gandhi, and ended with her dramatic decision to decline the post.

Congress Party lawmakers endorsed 71-year-old Mr. Singh as the head of a new coalition government on Wednesday after Mrs. Gandhi refused to reconsider that decision. The party's allies expressed confidence that the champion of market reforms will be a successful prime minister.

Mr. Singh commands wide respect for his integrity and intellect. He will be India's first prime minister from the minority Sikh community. The unassuming leader said he felt humble at the thought of leading the world's largest democracy, and wanted to make the 21st century the Indian century through social and economic development.

Mr. Singh is widely seen as party leader Sonia Gandhi's choice to lead the country. He is one of the most trusted advisors of former Prime Ministers Rajiv Gandhi's Italian-born widow.

A relaxed-looking Mrs. Gandhi said she was happy at the turn of events. "Now that everything is over, I am very happy, I think our country will be safe in Dr. Manmohan Singh's hands," she said.

But Congress party workers and leaders are taking time to come to terms with that decision. Through the day, Mrs. Gandhi's residence continued to be under siege from hundreds of slogan-shouting supporters. Senior Congress members resigned their posts and party activists led street protests in several parts of the country insisting she should be prime minister.

Mrs. Gandhi reassured them that she will continue to head the party that has revived under her leadership.