India’s president failed to name Sonia Gandhi prime minister as expected on Tuesday, and she later told allies she no longer wanted the leadership post, according to several Congress party allies.
Gandhi met with President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam but emerged saying another day of talks was needed before her Congress party could form a new government. Normally, when the leader of the biggest vote-getting bloc in Parliament is invited to the presidential palace, that person walks away with the title of prime minister.
Oscar Fernandes, a Congress party general secretary, insisted there was “nothing to sort out” and denied the speculation that she was hesitant to become prime minister.
Somnath Chatterjee, however, an elected Parliament member from the Communist Party of India-Marxist and a Congress party ally, said, “I’ve been informed that Sonia Gandhi is considering the position again.”
Chatterjee said Gandhi would later explain why she does not want to become prime minister.
“There are rumors that her children are against her becoming prime minister, maybe because of security reasons,” he said, adding that she was “buckling under pressure,” due to fears for her children.
Salman Khursheed, a senior Congress leader, told Star New TV that Congress members were devastated by the apparent Gandhi flip-flop.
“We worked so hard under her leadership. If she does not become the PM, our whole cause is lost,” he said. “This is something that the Congress workers will go to any lengths to change.”
Congress sources said Gandhi was forwarding the names of Manmohan Singh and Pranab Kumar Mukerjee, both of whom were Congress finance ministers. Singh was the architect of India’s economic liberalization program, and many believe he would be able to strike a balance between demands for leftists and policies that benefit businesses.
Stock market soars over reports
The unconfirmed reports that Gandhi might not accept the leadership post prompted India’s stock market to soar.
The benchmark index of the Bombay Stock Exchange, the Sensex, ended up 8.6 percent to provisionally close at 4893.64 points, a day after the biggest one-day dive in its 129-year history.
Earlier in the day, Gandhi came out of the presidential palace and told reporters that she had held “preliminary discussions on formation of the government” with the president.
But neither she nor the president’s office commented on why Kalam had not named her prime minister.
Subhas C. Kashyap, an expert on parliamentary affairs, said the president may be taking time because he is not yet satisfied that Gandhi can provide a stable government. The Indian constitution says the president should appoint the prime minister, but it doesn’t say how.
“It’s entirely up to the president to follow his own method, in satisfying himself that the person he appoints enjoys the confidence of the house,” he said.
The new Parliament must sit by Aug. 6, six months from the day that the previous legislature was dissolved.
Communist parties support Gandhi's bid
The Congress party and its allies did not win an outright majority in Parliament in the six-week elections that ended last week, but the two communist parties have said they would support her bid to become prime minister.
Investors fear Gandhi may have to backtrack on her pledge to go forward with economic liberalization, or that the Communists, with 62 seats in the 545-member parliament, could block key reforms such as the privatization of state-run companies.
The two communist parties — the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India-Marxist — announced Monday they would back Gandhi’s ascension as prime minister but would stay out of the coalition until they were able to review the positions of the new 11-member Congress alliance.
Gandhi needs the leftist parties because even with the announced backing Monday of the socialist Samajwadi Party, the Congress would have only 257 seats, short of the 272 it needs for a majority among the 543 elected seats of the lower house of Parliament, the Lok Sabha.
In a surprise result, Gandhi’s Congress and its allies trounced the National Democratic Alliance led by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee last week.