. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Indian Parties Stake Post-Vote Claims

NEW DELHI -- Rival parties on the right and left staked competing claims to power Saturday after voters dealt a crushing defeat to the Congress party and gave India a hung parliament.

Leaders of both the right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, and the left-wing National Front-Left Front, or NF-LF, lobbied President Shankar Dayal Sharma for an invitation to form a new government.

Both told him they could form a majority coalition.

A statement from the presidential palace said only that "the president has indicated that he has taken note of their assertions."

A steady stream of political bosses walked into the imposing red sandstone presidential palace, where the normally ceremonial head of state took rare center stage.

Deliberate and retiring, Sharma has not signalled his preference or how or when he would choose India's next leader, who will have to prove a majority in parliament.

The constitution leaves the choice up to the head of state. It gives him no rules to follow, but convention suggests he ask the leader of the biggest party to form a government.

The BJP said it could prove a majority as soon as the president demanded. A communist leader said Sharma had given the NF-LF two days to show it could form a government.

P.V. Narasimha Rao stepped down Friday as prime minister after it became clear his Congress party, which has ruled the world's second most populous country for all but four years since independence in 1947, had been routed in the polls.

Congress was forecast to finish third behind the BJP and the NF-LF, its worst showing ever.

The BJP said its newly elected parliamentary leader, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, should be appointed prime minister as the party had emerged from the election as the largest group in the 545-member lower house of parliament.

The BJP, accused of anti-Moslem bias by opponents, was forecast to take 175 to 185 seats.

The BJP has said that in government it would build the atom bomb and curb foreign investment in consumer industries opened up as Rao reformed the economy in the last five years.

While the BJP leaders were pressing their claim with Sharma, veteran Communist leader Jyoti Basu arrived at the palace to present the NF-LF's case.

The left-wing coalition was expected to take 140 to 150 seats, far short of a majority. But it said it would attract enough support from regional parties and independents to push it over the 273-vote threshold.

The NF-LF's main magnet is the staunch opposition of many mainstream parties to the BJP's program of promoting the Hindu way of life.

Congress has said it would consider backing the NF-LF, if the alliance pursued Rao's free-trade economic policies.