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March 15, 1998

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Vajpayee to be sworn in on Thursday, has to prove majority in ten days

Atal Bihari Vajpayee will be India's next prime minister.

President K R Narayanan formally invited Vajpayee to form the government after a 50 minute meeting at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Sunday night.

The Bharatiya Janata Party leader will be sworn in as prime minister on Thursday, March 19 and has been asked to prove his majority within ten days.

Talking to journalists at the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan, a beaming Vajpayee said the country was passing through a very difficult period and expressed confidence that he would be able to resolve the problems with the co-operation from all the political parties.

Vajpayee said he has not yet decided on the size of his Cabinet. He said he would hold discussions with leaders of his own party and allies before finalising the Cabinet.

The Rashtrapati Bhavan communique which announced his appointment as prime minister said the President had requested Vajpayee to advise him on the names of others to be appointed as members of his council of ministers.

United Front convener N Chandrababu Naidu's decision that his twelve MP Telugu Desam Party will remain neutral during the confidence motion clinched the decision in favour of a BJP-led coalition government.

According to the communique, 264 MPs now support a BJP-led government. This number -- 264 -- is short of the halfway mark in the 539-member House. However, when seen in the context of the TDP's decision -- as conveyed to the President by Naidu -- the number is adequate.

Another factor which helped the President take his decision was his meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi in the evening. Sonia informed Narayanan that the Congress, the second largest formation in the 12th Lok Sabha, would not stake its claim to form a government as it did not have the necessary numbers.

The President also noted Sunday's announcement by All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam general secretary J Jayalalitha that her party and its allies in Tamil Nadu, the Pattali Makkal Katchi and the Thamizhaga Rajiv Congress, would participate in the BJP-led government. A subsequent communication from Jayalalitha addressed to the President confirmed this.

The communique pointed out that when no party or pre-election alliance of parties is in a clear majority, the head of State in india and elsewhere had given the first opportunity to the leader of the party or combination of parties that has won the largest number of seats, subject to the prime minister so appointed obtaining majority support on the floor of the House within a stipulated period of time.

This procedure, however, is not an all time formula because a situation can arise when MPs not belonging to the largest party or combination, as a collective entity, outnumber the single largest claimant.

After persuading Jayalalitha to join the government, the BJP fixed the tentative schedule for the swearing in ceremony. In the first phase, at least one member of each of the BJP's allies will be inducted into the Cabinet.

The new members of the 12th Lok Sabha will be sworn-in on March 23 and 24, after the Speaker's election.

March 26 and 27 have been fixed for passing the vote-on-account.

The vote of confidence will be conducted on March 28, sources said.

BJP leaders met at Vajpayee's home several times through Sunday to assess the swiftly changing political situation. Earlier, the party achieved a major breakthrough in persuading Jayalalitha to let her party and its allies be part of the government. The party sent former finance minister Jaswant Singh, who is the convener of the committee preparing the national agenda for the BJP-led government, to Madras on Sunday to clear the air between the BJP and its single largest supporter in the House.

"The human touch worked miracles," BJP vice-president Kewal R Malkani told Rediff On The NeT late on Sunday night. "She thought she was not being treated on par with our other allies. We have cleared that misunderstanding."

In a volte face on her position Jayalalitha announced in Madras that the 18-MP AIADMK, the 4-MP PMK and the 1-MP TMC would join the BJP-led government. Pointedly, Janata Party president Dr Subramanian Swamy, whom the BJP had refused to accommodate in the government, has been kept out.

Dr Swamy told Rediff On The NeT in a telephone conversation from Madras early on Monday morning that "Jayalalitha could not have kept her entire front out of the government because of me."

Asked if the BJP will face a fresh wave of problems with Dr Swamy out of the Cabinet, Malkani said, "if he is in the government, there will be trouble. If he is out of the government, there will be trouble."

Meanwhile, the BJP plans to form a coordination committee to improve the lines of communication with its allies. Party vice-president S S Bhandari told Rediff On The NeT at midnight on Sunday that the committee will have representatives of all the BJP's allies. The committee's brief will be clear-cut -- to clarify all issues and resolve any dispute between the BJP and its partners. The AIADMK's six demands will be the first subject on the agenda for the coordination committee.

Elections '98

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