Indecisive India Faces Yet Another Election

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India's politicians may be unanimous about building atomic weapons, but they can't agree whose finger should be on the nuclear trigger. The failure of any political leader to forge a new government from among the 45 parties in the fractious parliament left President R. K. Narayan no choice on Monday but to send the world's largest electorate back to the polls. Narayan ordered new elections to be held sometime in the next six months, the third national ballot in as many years.

Creating a viable government demands an elusive parliamentary majority for one of the two major parties -- Atal Bihari Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which ruled until nine days ago, and Mrs. Sonia Gandhi's Congress Party, which has governed India for most of the 50 years since independence. But with few policy differences between those parties, there'll be more than a dose of demagoguery at the polls. "Mrs. Gandhi had proved to be a tremendous vote-catcher at the last election, and Congress is hoping the cachet of the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty can win this one for them," says TIME New Delhi correspondent Maseeh Rahman. But, says Rahman, the BJP became a contender for power by whipping up nationalist emotions among India's Hindu majority, and have indicated they plan to use Mrs. Gandhi's foreign origins as a stick with which to beat Congress. Either way, then, the coming election will be a referendum on Sonia Gandhi.