Hindu party says it can lead India

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Atal Behari Vajpayee, leader of the rightwing Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), yesterday declared his intention to form a new Indian government. The Hindu nationalists emerged as the largest parliamentary bloc in India's inconclusive elections but failed to win a majority.

India may suffer weeks or even months of political instability if the wrangling parties cannot agree on a coalition formula. With votes spread out over all three main parties - the BJP, the National Front-Leftist Front (NF-LF) group and the Congress party, ousted from power - Mr Vajpayee at best can only hope to form a coalition government.

At worst, the BJP may fail to collect the 270 seats needed for a majority. But Mr Vajpayee said: "We are confident that we can form a stable government that will lead a strong, proud India into the next millennium."

Final results were still awaited last night, but the BJP and its right- wing allies were expected to net over 200 seats, the NF-LF 150 seats, Congress 145 seats, with the regional parties and independents sweeping the rest of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, parliament's lower house.

If Mr Vajpayee flounders and cannot collect together the necessary backers within several days, it will be the the leftists' turn to scrape together a majority. The NF-LF wasted no time in announcing their bid, too. Jyoti Basu and Har Kishen Singh Surjeet, two prominent Communist leaders from the NF-LF, also met President Shanker Dayal Sharma yesterday to stake their leadership claim. Afterwards Mr Surjeet said they had been given two days to show they could form a majority. The leftists are trying to rally behind them the smaller regional parties and the newly-elected independent MPs who form a large bloc in the Lok Sabha.

Although the Congress party of Narasimha Rao, who resigned on Friday as Prime Minister, suffered its worst-ever electoral rout, the party now finds itself in a key position to help or hinder the BJP and the NF-LF attempts to form a government. For now, Congress is too distracted by its own in-fighting to focus on whether to back the Hindu revivalists or the leftists.

Further report, page 14