India's New Government

India's days-old coalition government is breaking new ground politically. It represents the ascendant power of regional politicians who have been critics of the way New Delhi has run things. Prime Minister H. D. Deve Gowda is one of the most successful of these regional leaders, having nurtured a high-tech boom in his southern state of Karnataka.

But while the social and political profiles of India's new leaders are different, many of their policies are likely to hew closely to those of P. V. Narasimha Rao's Congress Party government. Mr. Rao and colleagues, though battered by the voters in May's election, are the backbone of Deve Gowda's United Front coalition. Without Congress's support, the new government never would have happened.

Congress, and indeed a number of other parties in India's Parliament, were determined to snuff out the coalition's predecessor, an evanescent government led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Not ready for another try at governing itself, Congress threw its much-reduced parliamentary might into Deve Gowda's corner.

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Officially in that corner, as part of the United Front, are 13 smaller centrist to leftist parties. Holding them together won't be easy, and Congress and the BJP will be looking for opportunities to assert themselves again. But the new government has made a credible start at compromise policymaking, outlining priorities that include a fairly strong commitment to continue the economic liberalization begun by Rao.

Most foreign investment will still be welcome, especially in the realm of infrastructure. Privatization of state-run industry may be slowed, however, at the behest of Communist members of the coalition.

The coalition has also outlined ambitious plans to upgrade the status of women and reduce poverty. Clearly, it hopes to stick around for a while.

The time bomb for Deve Gowda's government may be its inclination to pursue corruption probes that helped topple Congress from power and could reach to Rao himself. On that issue, the United Front and Congress could part ways.

Meanwhile, Indian democracy has been spared a sharp, BJP-led departure from its secular roots. The chances of serious, perhaps nuclear, conflict with neighboring Muslim Pakistan have been lessened. And the country can continue its emergence into the global economic mainstream.

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