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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

India Congress Party Backs Rao, Left Bloc

NEW DELHI -- India's defeated Congress party stood by its caretaker prime minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao, on Sunday and decided to support a left-wing coalition's efforts to form a new government.

Congress deputies unanimously re-elected Rao as the party's leader, then instructed him to open talks with the National Front-Left Front, or NF-LF, with a view to blocking Hindu nationalists from taking power.

The right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, emerged as the largest party in general elections but fell well short of an outright majority in a hung parliament.

Voters dealt Congress, undermined by corruption charges, an unprecedented setback.

Both the BJP and the NF-LF, a loose coalition of center-left and socialist parties, have told President Shankar Dayal Sharma they will have enough support from allies to form a government.

But neither group has shown the arithmetic which would prove its ability to win a vote of confidence.

Both the NF-LF and Congress indicated they were willing to put deep differences aside to prevent the BJP, accused by critics of favoring Hindus over Moslems, from taking power for the first time.

"The Congress party has decided that the new government will be made up of secular MPs," party spokesman Ved Prakash said, using the political term for forces aligned against the BJP.

Rao, who resigned Friday but stays on as caretaker, fended off criticism from party leaders who held him responsible for Congress's poor showing at the polls. He then won unanimous re-election to the party's top post.

Congress deputies agreed the party would support the NF-LF's efforts to win power but not join the government, senior party member Rajesh Pilot said.

That meant Congress would do what it did in 1989 and refrain from voting against a left-wing government on any issue that could provoke its fall.

"The mandate of the people is that we have not been elected to form the government, so we will extend support to secular forces from outside," Pilot said, referring to the NF-LF.

BJP president Lal Krishna Advani denounced efforts by Congress and the NF-LF to prevent the Hindu nationalist party from forming a government.

"The verdict of the people is sought to be subverted by manipulation and manoeuvre," the Press Trust of India quoted Advani as saying. "I am sure that this will not succeed." With 514 seats declared in the 545-member lower house, the BJP and its allies had 181 seats.

Its prime ministerial candidate, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, said the BJP could form a majority by wooing independents and regional parties, which won more than 100 seats.

But Chandrababu Naidu, speaking for regional parties which won about 50 seats, told a news conference they were unlikely to support the BJP. The NF-LF said the BJP must be kept out of power at all costs because of its perceived bias against India's minorities, especially its 110 million Moslems.

Complex negotiations between Congress and the NF-LF were expected over the next two days.