A Hindu nationalist took over as prime minister Thursday and immediately named an ethnically mixed government in an effort to ease minorities' fears.
The rise of Atal Bihari Vajpayee has worried many of India's 120 million minority Muslims because of his Bharatiya Janata Party's association with anti-Muslim groups.Vajpayee's next task is to put together a governing coalition. Together with its declared allies, his party controls only 195 seats in parliament - 77 short of a majority. If he cannot muster the support of a majority by May 31, his government will collapse.
Hundreds of Vajpayee's supporters sang and danced in the streets of New Delhi today after the leader took the oath of office at the presidential mansion.
"Vajpayee Zindabad! Hail Vajpayee!" the crowd chanted outside the red sandstone prime minister's office.
Vajpayee, considered a party moderate, sought to win over minorities by including a Muslim, a Sikh and a member of one of India's underprivileged indigenous tribes in his 11-member Cabinet.
He also appointed one woman, party spokeswoman Sushma Swaraj, a right-wing former party president and an eminent Supreme Court lawyer.
"We will strive to provide a good government . . . and go by a policy of consensus," Vajpayee told reporters after swearing the oath of allegiance and secrecy.
President Shankar Dayal Sharma, the constitutional figurehead, invited Vajpayee on Wednesday to form the government, ending a week of suspense after inconclusive results from a general election.
If Vajpayee's party does not muster a parliamentary majority within two weeks, Sharma would give another party a chance to form a coalition.
"I'm sure I'll win the confidence vote," he said. "We'll show our strength on the floor of the house."
To do so, the Bharatiya Janata Party will have to encourage defections from the Congress Party, which suffered a humiliating election defeat, or from the National Front-Left Front, an alliance of leftist and low-caste parties that boycotted the swearing-in ceremony.