Sonia to stake claim

PTI | ByTerry Friel and Surojit Gupta (Reuters), New Delhi
May 16, 2004 08:51 PM IST

The new Congress-led Govt at the Centre is likely to be sworn in on Wednesday.

Prime Minister-elect Sonia Gandhi and her new government are likely to be sworn in on Wednesday after successfully sealing deals with allies and new partners, sources in the Congress party said.

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Sonia will meet President APJ Abdul Kalam on Monday armed with letters of support from several parties to stake her claim to government, they said.

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Left parties, which won a pivotal 60-plus seats have pledged to support Sonia, were on Sunday debating whether to join the coalition or simply back it from outside.

The Communists were also debating a joint economic policy with an eye to reassuring investors after the rupee and shares crashed on Friday to their lowest in months.

Congress has secured enough support from its allies almost to guarantee Sonia will be the next Prime Minister -- and India's first foreign-born leader. She will also be the family's fourth Prime Minister after her slain husband, Rajiv, mother-in-law Indira and Indira's father Jawaharlal Nehru.

Despite routing BJP-led NDA coalition, Congress fell short of a majority in the 545-seat Parliament and Sonia is still caught up in hectic negotiations to settle on the size and shape of her coalition.

So far, the Left is divided on whether to formally join Sonia. Some Communist groups are in direct Opposition to the Congress at the state level.

Investors fear the Leftists will block or slow reforms, especially the sale of bloated, monolithic state firms.

The Communists tried to appease markets on Saturday, saying that they welcomed foreign investment and realised no country could quarantine itself from the globalised economy any more.

"Foreign investment is welcome, provided that they satisfy three conditions," said CPI (M) leader Sitaram Yechuri.

"They must augment the existing productive capacities of the country, they must upgrade technology, and foreign investment must lead to employment generation.

Analysts also expect Sonia's government to repackage the reforms.

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