India’s new government will make security and promoting Hindu-Muslim tolerance a priority as it heads into a second term, while continuing its focus on raising the economic prospects of the country’s millions of poor, officials said Wednesday.
The declaration from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh came on the day that India’s president invited him to form the new government — a formality after the Congress party’s sweeping election victory.
Speaking earlier Wednesday, Mr. Singh laid out the agenda for his second term at a meeting between the Congress party and its coalition allies, said Congress spokesman Janardhan Dwivedi.
“The prime minister said that among the priorities of the government would be internal security and communal harmony,” Mr. Dwivedi told reporters.
Despite its resounding election victory, Congress’ record on national security is weak — underscored by dozens of deadly attacks during its last five year term, culminating in the deadly three-day siege on India’s financial capital of Mumbai last November that left 166 people dead.
While the Mumbai attacks have been blamed on Pakistani-based Islamic militant groups, a series of bombings have been claimed by homegrown Muslim terrorists, apparently angry over the plight of India’s large Muslim community, which make up about 13% of India’s nearly 1.2 billion people. Simmering tensions between the communities have sometimes led to bloody riots and clashes.
Mr. Singh also vowed to continue with the economic flagship programs launched in the past five years.
In his first term, Mr. Singh oversaw a costly initiative to guarantee employment for the poor in rural India and alleviate farmer debt.
While these plans have drawn criticism from the business sector, they are widely viewed as a driving force behind Congress’ unexpected election success, generating support among India’s rural poor who make up the majority of the country’s voters.
Speaking to reporters after meeting President Pratibha Patil, Mr. Singh said he had presented Mr. Patil with letters of support from 322 members of India’s 543-seat Parliament.
The Congress-led coalition captured 261 seats, far more than most analysts predicted, but still 11 short of a majority.
On Tuesday, two key regional parties — Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party, which together will control 43 seats — and several independent lawmakers, offered to support Mr. Singh’s government. The new government will be sworn in on Friday, Mr. Singh said.
Also Wednesday, Sonia Gandhi, the Congress party chief, was unanimously re-elected head of the United Progressive Alliance or UPA, the official name of the Congress-led alliance that has ruled India for five years.