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India Leader Narrowly Wins Confidence Vote

March 29, 1998|From Associated Press

NEW DELHI — India's Hindu nationalist party narrowly won its first vote of confidence in Parliament on Saturday after leaders promised to moderate its aggressive religious policies to embrace a broad-based government.

The vote means that the new coalition government put together by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, can stay in power--a relief to a country that has seen five governments in the last two years.

But the close vote--274 to 261--indicates how tenuous the government is.

"I want to thank all my allies . . . for their support in this test of strength. They stood united and helped us," a jubilant Vajpayee said as he emerged from the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament, after the vote.

The right-wing BJP, once ostracized for its aggressive Hindu nationalist ideology, has softened its stand on controversial religious issues to win wider support. Hard-line party President Lal Krishna Advani said Saturday the BJP would adhere to the more moderate goals in a governing agenda drafted with its coalition partners.

The party said that--for now--it would not build a Hindu temple at the site where its supporters tore down a Muslim mosque five years ago. The destruction of the Ayodhya mosque in northern India set off months of rioting in 1992 that killed 2,000 people.

The party also backed down on its desire to retract a special constitutional status enjoyed by Jammu and Kashmir, the only Muslim majority state in India.

The agenda agreed upon by the BJP and its 18 allies says India will take all steps to protect its territory, including building nuclear weapons.

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