Congress ends unhappy arrangement

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The Independent Online
The ungainly structure of India's United Front government, composed of 14 mutually noxious parties and with the Congress Party propping it up from outside like a flying buttress, finally fell apart on Thursday when President Narayanan dissolved the 11th Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament). A general election will be held between the third week of February and the first week of March.

The end came, predictably, when Congress withdrew its support. India's oldest party and the architect of independence had been barred from participation in the ruling coalition by left-wing parties; it had lent its support solely to block the "communalist" Hindu Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), the largest force in parliament with 161 seats out of 543, from taking power.

But for Congress this was never a happy arrangement. Sitaram Kesri, Congress's 77-year-old leader, dispatched the coalition's first prime minister, H D Deve Gowda, after 11 months. Mr Deve Gowda's successor, Inder Kumar Gujral, once a protege of Nehru and a successful foreign minister, has managed a mere eight months. Hamstrung by his government's conflicting urges, he has spent much of that time parading his distinguished whiskers around the world's capitals.