Gandhi stakes claim to India builds power base

THE SHAPE of India's new government, led by Sonia Gandhi's Congress party, will become clear by this evening, according to one of the key powerbrokers in the political wrangling.

The former actress-turned-politician Jayaram Jayalalitha revealed that progress had been made in the search for a replacement administration after the fall of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition. But while Mrs Gandhi, widow of the former prime minister Rajiv, conceded that Congress would stake a claim to govern, she refused to disclose details.

If Mrs Gandhi succeeds in winning the support of as many as 26 parties from the regions and the left, she will form India's sixth government in little more than three years. But there were signs yesterday that Congress, with only 139 MPs, well short of the 271 needed for a majority in parliament, was struggling to win over several crucial small parties to make the numbers tally.

Key among them were two left-wing parties, the Revolutionary Socialists and Forward Block, who object to the previous Congress government's economic reform policies, and the regional Tamil Maanila Congress, which refuses to be part of any coalition containing its arch-rival Ms Jayalalitha. Together they command a vital eight votes which would make a Congress coalition viable.

A day of deal-making in Delhi saw frantic efforts to persuade the parties to come on board.

But Ms Jayalalitha was adamant that there was no pressure on her All- India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham party to remain outside the government in order to win over the waverers.

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