Coalition ally quits as Singh sworn in

Indian Prime Minister is first since Nehru to be returned for second term
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The Independent Online

Manmohan Singh, the man credited with much of the economic liberalisation behind India's boom, has been sworn in again as the country's Prime Minister, the first politician since Nehru to be re-elected after a full term.

Dressed in an elaborate white, green and gold sari, President Pratibha Patil administered the oath of office to 76-year-old Mr Singh and his core cabinet members in a ceremony at Delhi's impressive red-stone presidential palace. While 19 ministers were sworn in yesterday, more will follow next week in a second ceremony.

The delay in swearing in all the ministers was apparently to allow the Congress party time to complete coalition negotiations with its allies.

The DMK, a regional party from southern India, walked out after the Congress party, led by Sonia Gandhi, failed to agree to its demands. DMK leader M Karunanidhi and his entourage packed their bags and flew out of Delhi early yesterday morning.

Mr Singh, wearing a blue turban, swore to "preserve, protect and defend the constitution and devote myself to the service and well-being of the people of the Republic of India". But there will be many challenges ahead.

Given the success of Congress in the month-long election and the absence of a need to ally with the larger regional parties, there will be greater expectations on Mr Singh and his colleagues to deliver on the country's many pressing needs – infrastructure, health care, education and poverty reduction.

Some reports suggest that, unfettered by its former leftist allies, Congress is likely to push reforms such as raising the foreign investment limit in insurance and opening up the pension sector. There are also reports that the retail sector could be opened up, possibly to foreign companies.

The Prime Minister, a mild-mannered former economist with a reputation for honesty, was thrust into his current position in 2004 when Ms Gandhi declined the role and picked him to fill it. He has since contended with charges of being her puppet and a stop-gap until her son, Rahul Gandhi, is ready to take over.

But during the campaign and in the aftermath, 38-year-old Mr Gandhi has appeared to distance himself from such a scenario. Repeatedly voicing his support for Mr Singh as Prime Minister, it appears he has even rejected calls to join the cabinet. Instead, for now, he appears set to focus his energies on building the grassroots element of the Congress party that many believe he will eventually lead.

The DMK had worked together with Congress throughout the campaign, but with the two parties making substantial gains at the polls, both were trying to get a better deal.

Congress still has enough support to govern without the DMK which is the third-largest party in the coalition. But the smaller group's presence in the coalition would do much to guarantee the stability of the government.

The DMK – which would be reluctant to totally forgo the spoils of office – was widely expected to eventually join the administration, with talks set to continue after the ceremony as both parties re-assessed their stands.

"We are not at all worried. We are friends," said one leader.

The Congress party, which has been trying to bolster its image as a clean party under Mr Singh, was also reportedly unhappy with Mr Karunanidhi's ministerial picks, which included two senior party leaders tainted by corruption charges and also the leader's son, daughter and a nephew.