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CONGRESS PARTY RE-ELECTS RAO DESPITE HIS LOSS AT INDIA POLLS

Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao was re-elected head of the Congress party Sunday, despite a general election defeat that's forcing him to step down as India's leader.

The current ruling party also offered to support a leftist coalition that hopes to lead India's next government. But some party leaders said they have not given up the idea of forming a Congress-led government.The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party won the most Parliament seats in India's general election but fell short of an outright majority. It has asked President Shankar Dayal Sharma for the right to form a coalition government.

Should the leftist alliance lead the next government, it would be the first time lower castes and other traditionally disadvantaged groups would have an important role in India's leadership.

Low-caste heroine Phoolan Devi, popularly known as the Bandit Queen, will be one of the new faces in Parliament. She beat a Bharatiya Janata candidate for a seat representing the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

Devi, 35, for years led a gang of bandits and is alleged to have massacred upper caste men in revenge for her rape - a charge she denies. She served 11 years in jail before being released in 1994.

During her campaign, she portrayed her criminal career as part of a class struggle and vowed to never work for the upper castes.

"They will again beat up my brothers and oppress the poor and low-castes," Devi said.