India's new rulers recruit unlikely partners

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SO LARGE and various was the new Indian government sworn in yesterday that the ceremony had to be moved out of the presidential palace and into the forecourt to accommodate representatives of all the coalition partners.

In its effort to get a majority, the Hindu nationalist BJP did pre- election deals with 12 other parties, including Socialists, neo-fascists, Sikh nationalists and the former movie queen Jayalalitha. Still more parties and independents were roped in when the election results left the BJP many seats short of what it needed. But even so the government's majority will be wafer thin. "If one MP answers the call of nature," a BJP spokesman quipped, "the nature of the house will change."

To keep his many friends happy, the new Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, has appointed a 42-strong council of ministers.

To keep the support of its partners, the BJP has had to drop all its controversial policy goals, such as building a Hindu temple on the site of the demolished mosque in Ayodhya. But several party hardliners have made it into government, including the Hindu nun Uma Bharti, notorious for her anti-Muslim rhetoric.