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The BBC's Mike Wooldridge
"Another day of fast-moving developments"
 real 28k

Thursday, 15 March, 2001, 18:34 GMT
Indian opposition capitalises on crisis
Communist Party demonstration
The scandal has galvanised opposition to the government
By Abhishek Prabhat in Delhi

India's opposition parties are moving fast to cash in on the deepening crisis embroiling the government after the resignation of Defence Minister George Fernandes.

Mr Fernandes became the most senior victim of the bribery scandal that has rocked the government since the release of secretly filmed video footage implicating senior officials in corrupt arms deals.

Atal Behari Vajpayee
Analysts say Vajpayee's administration is vulnerable now
The main opposition Congress party has said it might now consider a tie-up with the Trinamool Congress, which pulled out of the governing coalition on Wednesday.

Congress might now join with Trinamool to contest upcoming elections in the state of West Bengal.

Fragile coalition

A spokesman for the Trinamool Congress told the BBC that Mr Fernandes' resignation would not change his party's decision to withdraw from the government.

Although the withdrawal poses no immediate threat to the government, it has weakened the already fragile coalition.

Analysts said Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's government may not be on the verge of collapse, but it is certainly vulnerable to the vacillating loyalties of regional parties.

It is still not clear whether other partners in the ruling alliance will try to bring Trinamool leader Mamata Banerjee back into the fold.

As cracks appear in the governing coalition, new alliances are emerging among India's communist parties, which are working hard to cobble together an alternative third front.

People power

On Thursday they launched the People's Front, a loose political alliance of left-wing parties, the Janata Dal of former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda and the Samajwadi Party of the former Defence Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav.

The Front is to be headed by veteran Communist leader and former Chief Minister of West Bengal, Jyoti Basu. Mr Yadav will act as convener.

The Front says it is also holding talks with two former prime ministers, VP Singh and Chandra Shekhar.

It said other parties which are secular and agree to the common agenda of the Front are also welcome to join.

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