Page last updated at 05:53 GMT, Sunday, 17 May 2009 06:53 UK

Congress plots Indian way forward

Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi
Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi thanked the people for a "massive mandate"

India's Congress party is holding meetings to decide on its ruling coalition, a day after its decisive victory in the general election.

With all but two results declared, the Congress-led alliance is projected to win 260 seats with the BJP on 157.

The Third Front fell apart, with its prime movers, the leftists, suffering a huge defeat.

The focus now moves to the cabinet, with PM Manmohan Singh having already stressed the importance of youth.

He has said he hopes to persuade the rising star of the Nehru dynasty - Rahul Gandhi - to join the cabinet.

Congress alliance: 260
BJP alliance: 157
Others: 124
Source: Indian Election Commission - two seats still to declare

Mr Gandhi's decision for Congress to go it alone in India's most politically important state - Uttar Pradesh - and the ease of his campaigning style have won many plaudits.

Congress leaders have already been meeting smaller parties to gain the few seats of support needed to form a workable coalition.

Meanwhile, world leaders have congratulated Congress on its victory.

US President Barack Obama said the elections had strengthened India's "vibrant democracy" and that the US would work to "enhance the warm partnership between our two countries".

Left's collapse

The scale of the victory has surprised almost everyone in India and analysts say the markets will breathe a sigh of relief that there will not be a period of uncertainty as coalitions are hammered out.

Congress sweeps all seven seats in Delhi
Sonia Gandhi wins by record 372,000 votes in Rae Bareli
Railway Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav contests two seats to be safe - and loses in one
Film star Chiranjeevi does the same in the Andhra Pradesh assembly poll
Ex-India cricket captain Mohammad Azharuddin wins in Uttar Pradesh
Kashmir separatist Sajad Lone loses
Varun Gandhi, accused of anti-Muslim speech, wins in Uttar Pradesh

Manmohan Singh is the first prime minister to be re-elected after serving a full first term since Jawarharlal Nehru in 1961.

The projected number of seats for Congress - 201 - would be the highest for any single party in a quarter of a century.

The Left collapsed to its worst showing in more than 30 years in its stronghold of West Bengal, and disintegrated in Kerala.

The politburo of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) meets on Monday with general secretary Prakash Karat under huge pressure.

As for the main opposition Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, its hopes of a ruling coalition disappeared in the first hour of counting on Saturday.

Its parliamentary leader LK Advani, 81, is expected to stand down officially soon, though there will be much jostling for his position as there appears no automatic replacement.

The most colourful leader is Gujarat's Narendra Modi but analysts say he may prove too controversial.

A number of high-profile and controversial politicians saw their parties suffer badly.

Railway Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav's party lost out to Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United) in Bihar.

The parties of Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu and Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh also underperformed.

In-tray full

Analysts say the formation of the Congress cabinet should be smooth as it will not have to rely on difficult coalition partners.

Congress supporters in Delhi
Congress supporters in Delhi celebrate the decisive victory

Several ministers were defeated - including those for steel, women and child development and minority affairs - so there will be fresh faces, with a number of younger politicians in the frame.

If Mr Singh returns as PM, his in-tray will be full.

Congress was elected on a promise of economic recovery and more growth, which could prove a tough task in the global downturn.

Many economic commentators were unconvinced by Mr Singh's first term but they believe the next administration - freed of leftist influence - may be able to press ahead with key issues such as labour and pension reform.

India's new government must convene by 2 June.

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