India Gov't Suffers In Vote

Indian opposition parties on Monday turned up the heat on Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's shaky coalition after his party was humiliated in state elections.

The opposition Congress Party, which dominated national politics until recent years, won enough seats in the elections last week to form governments in three of the four states up for grabs.

The election results have been widely interpreted as a rebuff to the 8-month-old, 19-party coalition headed by Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP.

Opposition parties forced an adjournment of the lower house of parliament on the first day of its winter session, in which the coalition government plans to push through vital economic reforms.

"The BJP government should resign because the people of the country have rejected them. This government has no moral right to continue," a lawmaker from the socialist Rashtriya Janata Dal said.

The BJP lost control of two Hindi heartland states and defied expectations by failing to wrest control of a third state.

But the BJP, which leads the eight-month-old coalition government, turned down calls to resign and said no federal government had ever left office because of state elections.

"We have [been] in government for only eight months. Why are we being asked to quit?" parliament affairs minister Madanlal Khurana asked reporters.

A resurgent Congress planned to embarrass the coalition government further in the fragmented parliament by focusing on spiraling prices, an issue which turned voters against the BJP and overshadowed the party's bold decision to conduct nuclear tests last May.

The only silver lining on the clouds gathering around the Hindu nationalist party appeared to be a pledge of loyalty from most members of the shaky ruling coalition it leads.

"I don't see any threat to the government, but it will be a turbulent session because [opposition] have got a big weapon now," Commerce Minister Ramakrishna Hegde told reporters after a meeting of the BJP and its allies in parliament.

But newspaper commentaries were unsparing in their attacks on the performance of the government.

"The Vajpayee administration has now lost the moral authority to govern this country," said The Hindu. "Unless the prime minister and his colleagues come to terms with this political reality, they will find the credibility of their governance ebbing by the moment."

Economic issues are seen by many as fueling India's political turmoil. The trade deficit for the world's second-most populous nation widened to $5 billion during the first half of the fiscal year, compared with $2.5 billion from April to September last year, according to the Commerce Ministry.

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