New Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, India’s first non-Hindu top leader, paid homage today to former prime ministers before announcing a new cabinet delayed by political wrangling within his new ruling coalition.
Singh, 71, was expected to assume the post of finance minister, a position he held in 1991-96, when he introduced the most wide-ranging economic reforms in the nation’s history.
Singh began his first full day in office by visiting memorials in New Delhi for four former prime ministers – Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi – and independence leader Mohandas K Gandhi.
His swearing in on Saturday put his Congress party back in control of the predominantly Hindu nation after eight years, and ended a week of political turmoil in which Italian-born Congress leader Sonia Gandhi declined to become prime minister.
Singh, India’s first prime minister from the Sikh minority, replaced Atal Bihari Vajpayee, whose Hindu-nationalist government was ousted by the Congress party in tumultuous elections in April and May.
Although 28 cabinet members and 40 ministers of state and junior ministers were also sworn in Saturday, Singh said there were “difficulties in finalising the cabinet” and their portfolios would be announced today.
As Congress failed to gain an outright majority in the 545-seat parliament, it will be forced to rely on two powerful Communist parties for support from outside its coalition.
That prospect spooked investors, causing them to send the Bombay Stock Exchange plunging on fears the Communists would slow economic reforms.
Markets have since stabilised, however, with Singh assuring investors that India would remain pro-growth.
Sonia Gandhi will continue to be the head of the Congress party. She is the widow of Rajiv Gandhi, a former prime minister assassinated by a suicide bomber in 1991, and a daughter-in-law of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, assassinated in 1984.
Indira Gandhi was the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister after independence from Britain in 1947 who remained in power until his death in 1964.