Gandhi 'does not want to be premier'

Sonia Gandhi no longer wants to be India’s first foreign-born prime minister, members of her Congress party and its political allies claimed today.

Sonia Gandhi no longer wants to be India’s first foreign-born prime minister, members of her Congress party and its political allies claimed today.

They signalled that she was forwarding the names of Manmohan Singh and Pranab Kumar Mukerjee, both of whom were finance ministers, for the prime minister’s post.

“There are rumours that her children are against her becoming prime minister, maybe because of security reasons.” said Somnath Chatterjee, an MP from the Communist Party of India-Marxist.

Both Italian born Sonia Gandhi’s husband Rajiv, and her mother-in-law Indira, were assassinated while prime ministers of the world’s biggest democracy.

Earlier in the day, Gandhi met President APJ Abdul Kalam but did not, as widely expected, leave with his approval to form a minority government that would be dependent on the outside support of two communist parties.

Gandhi said she would meet with the head of state again on Wednesday.

In the meantime, financial markets that suffered a record crash a day earlier, bounced back on speculation that someone else would lead the country following last week’s electoral upset of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s National Democratic Alliance coalition.

A top Congress official, Salman Khurshid, said Gandhi would probably not seek the prime ministership. “Everybody knows … This is what’s happening,” he said.

Additionally, key political allies also suggested she would not take the top job.

“I’ve been informed that Sonia Gandhi is considering the position again,” said Somnath Chatterjee, an elected Parliament member from the Communist Party of India-Marxist.

There was no immediate comment from Gandhi, who was expected to hold a news conference today.

Her foreign origins might play a factor to withdraw.

“A foreigner becoming the prime minister of the country will put national security and the country’s self-respect in jeopardy,” said Uma Bharti, a former sports minister in outgoing Vajpayee’s government.

The Congress party and its allies did not win an outright majority in Parliament in the six-week elections, but communist parties – with 62 seats in the 545-member parliament – said they would support her bid to become prime minister but not join her government.

Investors fear that if she becomes prime minister Gandhi would have to backtrack on her pledge to go forward with economic liberalisation, or that the leftists could block key reforms such as the privatisation of state-run companies.

That sent markets plummeting on Monday, when the Bombay Stock Exchange, the Sensex, had its biggest drop in its 129-year history.

Likely premier Manmohan Singh was the architect of India’s economic liberalisation programme, and many believe he would be able to strike a balance between demands for leftists and policies that benefit businesses.

Earlier in the day, Gandhi came out of the presidential palace in New Delhi and said she had held “preliminary discussions on formation of the government” with Kalam.

But neither she nor the president’s office commented on why Kalam had not named her prime minister.

Subhas 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 August 6, six months from the day that the previous legislature was dissolved.

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