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Indian government's unstable win

In wake of confidence vote, it faces shaky political alliances and corruption claims.

By Mian RidgeCorrespondent / July 24, 2008

More hurdles: Prime Minister Singh must manage an unwieldy coalition to advance a nuclear deal, economic reforms.

B Mathur/Reuters

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New Delhi

India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, scored one of the biggest victories of his political career when he won a knife-edge confidence vote in parliament Tuesday. But the triumph comes with strings that may weaken his government's prospects in upcoming general elections, expected to occur by May 2009.

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The win will allow Mr. Singh to steam ahead with a groundbreaking but long-delayed nuclear deal with the United States upon which he has repeatedly staked his legacy and his government. It will also allow him to pass urgently needed economic reforms and rein in inflation, currently running at nearly 12 percent.

But salvaging his government has come with a price tag. In an intensely fought battle to cling to power, Singh's Congress-led coalition government, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), was forced to cut deals with smaller, regional parties whose support may prove unreliable, say analysts.

And the government has been embarrassed by dramatic claims by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), that its allies offered cash for votes.

After two days of tumultuous debate in Parliament, the UPA won the confidence vote by a more comfortable majority than many had expected, with 275 seats, compared with 256 against.

The vote was sparked when the UPA's Communist allies withdrew their support from the government over the Indo-US nuclear deal, arguing that it would make India a stooge of the US.

In the days leading up to the vote, few political pundits would guess at the government's chances of survival. Had the UPA lost, the world's biggest democracy would have faced early elections and the nuclear deal would have been scuppered.

Pushing the nuclear deal

Now, the government has secured itself a few more months in power. Analysts say it will waste no time in trying to get the deal approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency – where a meeting is scheduled for August 1 – and the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a body of 45 nations that export nuclear materials, before it goes to the US Congress for approval.

The deal will allow India, which has nuclear weapons but has never signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to import nuclear technology and fuel, provided it separates its civil and military programs and allows some UN inspections.

Washington has urged New Delhi to hasten the passage of the long-delayed deal, agreed upon by Singh and President Bush in 2005, before US presidential elections in November.

Unreliable alliances

But at home, the Indian government's path is much less clear cut.