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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Congress Buys Time In India Showdown

NEW DELHI, India -- India's Congress party bought more time in its face-off with the ruling coalition Wednesday, holding back from withdrawing its make-or-break support.


Dragging out a game of brinksmanship that has gripped New Delhi for over a week, Congress reiterated its demand that the ruling alliance expel a regional party that has been linked to the assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.


But, once again, it set no deadline for the coalition, which has already rejected the demand.


"It is a see-saw struggle," a senior leader of the minority United Front government said after Congress spelled out its position in a letter to Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral. "So long as no deadline is fixed, it is open-ended."


Without backing from Congress, Gujral's 15-party government would almost certainly fall, opening the way for a snap election.


However, a government minister said the United Front would seek a confidence vote in parliament if it loses support. That could leave the door ajar for efforts to form a new government and so avert a poll for which few have any appetite.


Among those who would hope to cobble together a majority is the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, that -- although it is the largest party in parliament -- clung to power for less than two weeks after inconclusive elections last year.


The current crisis arose last week after publication of an inquiry report on Gandhi's murder in 1991 that said the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party, or DMK, had provided "tacit support" to Sri Lankan Tamil separatists, the suspected killers.


Acrimony over the affair has disrupted proceedings in both houses of parliament after uproarious scenes of shouting and chanting by lawmakers from the Congress party and the DMK.


The crisis has also knocked stock markets lower and added momentum to a slide in the rupee, which ended at an all-time low of 38.70 to the dollar Wednesday.


Congress, which has ruled India for all but five years since independence in 1947, has been chafing at playing second fiddle since its ignominious defeat in last year's elections.


But analysts say the party's dithering since delivering its ultimatum to the government last week reflected internal division and deep anxiety over how well it would fare in a poll.


A jostling crowd of television crews, reporters and Congress supporters gathered in the evening outside the party's headquarters, a colonial-style bungalow, to await what had been billed throughout the day as a final decision.


"Long live Sitaram Kesri!" chanted the supporters, cheering on the 77-year-old party president. The crowd surged forward as Kesri came out, forcing him back into the building.


The first signals from the meeting were confusing, with one leader saying there had been "no patch-up" with the United Front and another declaring "no withdrawal of support for the moment."