Manmohan is new India PM


  • AseanPlus News
  • Sunday, 23 May 2004

NEW DELHI: Manmohan Singh, the Oxford-educated economist who crafted India's economic liberalisation policies, was sworn in as prime minister yesterday, placing the Congress party back in control of the nation after eight years on the sidelines. 

Manmohan, India's first prime minister to come from the country's influential Sikh minority was sworn in by the A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who became India's first Muslim president in 2002. 

The Congress party, whose leader, Italian-born Sonia Gandhi declined the top post last week, will lead a minority coalition after it ousted Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's Hindu-nationalist government in a tumultuous round of elections held in April and May. 

After several days of bargaining with coalition partners over key ministerial posts, the 71-year-old technocrat took the oath of office, dressed in a light blue Sikh turban and white, high-neck cotton tunic. 

An estimated 68 other key allies also prepared to be sworn in as Union Ministers by President Kalam, in an elaborate ceremony at his imposing, pink sandstone palace in the heart of New Delhi. 

A Congress party official said that the final list of Cabinet posts would not be made official until today. It has been widely reported that Manmohan himself would take on a dual role as both prime minister and finance minister, a position he held in the early 1990s under a previous Congress-led government. 

OFFICIAL CEREMONY: Manmohan reading the oath of office as hestands next to Kalam (left) in New Delhi yesterday. – AFPpic

Manmohan and Congress party president Sonia Gandhi have been meeting with leaders of different political parties to haggle over the number of spots each party would receive in the Cabinet. 

Manmohan is expected to assign key ministries such as finance, foreign affairs, defence and security to members of his own party, but leave several high-profile economic ministries like petroleum, communications and rural development for allies, the official said. 

The partners were pleased with the results of the negotiations, which ended early yesterday, the official said. 

On Friday, the leaders of the Congress-led group – named the United Progressive Alliance – finished drafting an outline of the new government's political and economic priorities. 

“The UPA government will give the highest priority to building closer political, economic and other ties with its neighbours in South Asia,'' said the draft, a copy of which was made available yesterday.  

Efforts launched by the previous government to resolve India's decades-old dispute with Pakistan over the Himalayan region of Kashmir – the cause of two wars between the nuclear rivals – will be “pursued systematically and on a sustained basis,'' it said.  

The new government will continue to forge closer relations with the United States, but maintain the independence of India's foreign policy, the draft said, in an apparent suggestion that some decisions under Vajpayee may have been made under pressure from Washington. – AP  

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