In a meeting with the President, K R Narayanan, she was able to offer only 230-odd MPs, which is more than 40 short of an absolute majority. But instead of dismissing her attempts to take power, he urged her to keep trying.
All parties continued to fight shy of a general election, and the efforts to form a workable coalition were continuing.
If, however, no party is successful, a poll will be inevitable. The Italian- born widow of the former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi would then discover whether the Congress party, which has held India in its thrall for almost all the 50 years of the country's independence, can regain power.
After Congress's failure became clear, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) once again staked its claim to office and demanded it should be given another chance to govern, claiming the support of 270 MPs.
As torch bearer of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, Mrs Gandhi had boldly declared just three days ago that her party had 272 MPs behind her. But several small parties who helped to bring down the BJP-led coalition have steadfastly refused to simply back Congress. The largest, the Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi party, was almost certainly seeking a seat-sharing pact in Uttar Pradesh, where Congress is its main opponent.
Smaller but equally significant are the Revolutionary Socialist Party and the Forward Bloc, which aimed to persuade Congress to adopt a radical left-wing economic agenda.
Congress held out on all the demands, asserting that the only acceptable solution would be it heading a minority government. Yesterday its bluff was called when a Samajwadi party delegation representing its 20 MPs told the president they would vote for neither Congress nor the BJP.Reuse content