Gandhi's Ruling Party Appears to Lose Majority As India's Vote Is Counted

INDIAN Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi could lose his huge parliamentary majority in national elections in which no party is expected to score a commanding win, according to an exit poll and preliminary results of voting. For the first time in India's 42-year history Mr. Gandhi's ruling Congress (I) Party and the opposition, headed by his main challenger V.P. Singh, are likely to fall short of an overall majority.

Analysts say that it will thrust the country into political uncertainty as parties compete to build a coalition government. The support of India's communist parties and the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party will be crucial to either side.

Who rules India will ride on the decision of the Indian President, R.Venkataraman, who has the power to invite the leader of the largest party or group to form the next government. An inconclusive outcome could raise murky constitutional issues which could determine the next prime minister.

According to an exit poll done by the newsmagazine India Today, Congress (I) could win up to 215 seats in the 543-member lower house.

Early results for 308 seats showed the Congress leading in 120, mostly in four southern states, while the three major opposition parties are leading in a total of 158 races, mainly in four northern states. Other parties lead in 30 races.

Widespread allegations of voting malpractices and the death of more than 100 people have made this India's most violent and controversial poll. Charges of vote-rigging and the shooting and wounding of a prominent opposition leader in Amethi, Gandhi's own constituency, has raised a storm of protest from Indian intellectuals and further weakened the prime minister's support.

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