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Thursday, June 17, 1999 Published at 14:57 GMT 15:57 UK

World: South Asia

Two Indian parties forge poll alliance

The Congress rebels formed their own party after being expelled

A breakaway faction of India's Congress party, the Nationalist Congress Party, has formed a significant poll alliance, ahead of September's general elections.

The party, led by former defence minister Sharad Pawar, has teamed up with the Samajwadi (Socialist) party of Mulayam Singh Yadav, himself a one-time defence minister.

The BBC's Satish Jacob in Delhi says the purpose behind the alliance is to create a third political group, opposed to the ruling BJP and the Congress.

He says every party in India is resigned to a hung parliament emerging from the elections, as neither the BJP or the Congress are expected to win a majority.

Mr Pawar commands enormous support in the western state of Maharashtra, while the Samajwadi party has a strong base in Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in India.

The new group does not have a name as yet, but for the moment it is being called the Third Front.

In the next few weeks it is expected to try and win other allies, especially some of the smaller regional parties.

Congress prospects endangered

The BBC's correspondent sees this as a significant development in Indian politics. The Third Front's ideology is fairly similar to the Congress party, which could suffer more damage from the alliance than the BJP.

Speaking to reporters, Mr Pawar said the new alliance would work for an alternative to the Congress and the BJP, and "champion the cause" of India's lower castes.

The NCP was formed after Mr Pawar, former parliament speaker Purno Sangma and MP Tariq Anwar all took part in a revolt last month against Congress President Sonia Gandhi's leadership.

The rebels were sacked from Congress and set up their own party.

If they are able to attract more allies, the Third Front could play a key role in determining who forms India's next government.

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