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EDITIONS
Friday, 6 March, 1998, 19:59 GMT
India's post-poll puzzle
With no outright election win, the main Indian political parties have been canvassing the support of smaller parties.

Leaders of those regional parties who have had some election success are meeting among themselves and with other parties to discuss allegiances.

The Hindu nationalist party, the BJP, with a diluted agenda, is emerging as the clear forerunner in the bid for power.

The BJP, and allies such as the Samata Party, are about 20 seats short of an overall majority in the new Lok Sabha government.

The nationalists are wary of repeating the fiasco of 1996, when the BJP formed a government but failed to muster a majority in parliament. The government collapsed in less than two weeks.

The BJP has even indicated its willingness to compromise on some of its more controversial policies, above all, its proposal to build a big Hindu temple on the site of a demolished mosque in the northern town of Ayodhya.

One of the BJP's more hardline leaders, Murli Manohar Joshi, said commitments in the party manifesto would not be binding on a BJP-led coalition.

While the deal-making goes on, India must wait for a new prime minister.

Telegu Desam holds the key

The Telegu Desam, a key south Indian regional party based in Andhra Pradesh, returned 12 MPs in the 1998 elections.

As coalition partners, the 12 could be crucial to either of the main parties.

As part of the outgoing United Front coalition government, Telegu Desam used to have the support of the Congress party - however, on a local scale, Congress is their main opponent.

A BBC correspondent says Telegu Desam may find the BJP a more comfortable ally than the Congress Party.

The party has hinted it might switch camps, saying that it is unlikely to support a Congress-led coalition even if this means pulling out of the United Front.

West Bengal's female firebrand

Rebel politician Mamata Banerjee was expelled from the Congress party in December 1997 after announcing that she would contest the 1998 election under a different party.

Her Trianumul Congress won seven seats in the Bengal area after breaking with Congress before the elections, and is another desirable ally for the BJP.

Mamata Banerjee's party has suggested that it could give a BJP government "conditional support". The Trianumul Congress may be preparing to form a government with the BJP without formally joining it.

Last year, Ms Banerjee accused Congress of working in collusion with Communist politicians.

Congress: crisis continues

The Congress Party and the left are still discussing the possibility of forming a grand alliance which would block the BJP.

One Congress leader, Madhavrao Scindia, has counselled against power at any price, saying the Congress Party could be better stronger after two or three years in opposition.

Left-wing parties have been non-committal over the issue of formation of a non-BJP government, being predominantly worried about keeping the United Front together.

Presidential decision expected

The final decision to form a government belongs to India's President, Kocheril Raman Narayanan, who must appoint his new Minister some time after March 12, when all the results should have been returned.

He retains constitutional discretion to call whoever he feels would provide a government with the best prospects of stability.

The most obvious solution to this problem should become clearer as the outcome of inter-party deals is revealed.

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