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Last Updated: Saturday, 22 May, 2004, 13:47 GMT 14:47 UK
Q&A: India's new government
India's new prime minister is senior Congress party figure Manmohan Singh. The president swore him in after Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi refused to take up the post. News Online looks at the drama.

Congress MPs beg Mrs Gandhi (second from right) to reconsider
Congress MPs mobbed Mrs Gandhi after the bombshell
What prompted Sonia Gandhi's decision?

It is not clear - and Mrs Gandhi has given few hints. She says she listened to her "inner voice" and never sought to be PM. Certainly, she has never seemed driven by ambition for high office.

The views of her children, Rahul and Priyanka, are widely thought to have been crucial. Both their father and grandmother held the post of prime minister, and both were assassinated.

They may also have wanted to spare their mother more attacks over her Italian origins. Even though she became an Indian citizen more than 20 years ago, a section of India is vehemently opposed to a "foreigner" being in charge of the country.

How has her party reacted?

Congress and its supporters have been devastated at the news. MPs pleaded with Mrs Gandhi to change her mind. Many feel she has betrayed the millions who voted for her.

Crowds of supporters protested outside her Delhi home. Some even threatened to commit suicide.

And what about the country at large?

India has a long cultural tradition of renouncing authority and worldly goods - and many, Congress supporters among them, have lauded Mrs Gandhi for a selfless act of sacrifice.

India's press had wide praise for her decision. Commentators say she has outsmarted the opposition. Many say she has risen in the eyes of Indians. Her actions will boost the Gandhi name and perhaps even help her children become future leaders, the theory goes.

But there is puzzlement about why it took her so long to make her mind up. Perhaps she should have come clean immediately on winning the elections. Or perhaps she thought the election unwinnable and was taken genuinely unawares.

Will Mr Singh make a good leader?

The markets certainly seem to prefer him. He is after all the economist credited with launching India's reform programme. When rumours emerged that he, and not Mrs Gandhi, would be PM, shares made up some ground lost amid fears over the future of reforms.

But whether the able Mr Singh will go down as well with left-wing allies in parliament is unclear.

He does not have the appeal of the Gandhi name, nor his own political power base. How much influence Sonia Gandhi will wield in the background remains to be seen.

Nor does he have much political experience - which he will need to keep the Congress coalition on course.

But Mr Singh is widely regarded as the "Mr Clean" of Indian politics, and that will help him in the fight against corruption, which was a key concern of voters.

India votes 2004: Full in-depth coverage here

Cabinet members Old faces return
Gandhi family loyalists back in from the cold, but no fresh blood in cabinet.




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