Vol 2, PW 23 (09 Dec 98) People & Policy

Hardly nine months into government and political pundits are already predicting elections and the imminent downfall of the BJP-led coalition.

Behind this latest hysteria is the damning indictment of voters in four Indian states who went to the polls to elect new state assemblies on 25 November. Voters deserted the BJP in droves, returning Congress governments in Rajasthan and Delhi, while allowing Congress in Madhya Pradesh to stay in power.

If you believe the newspapers, Indias Congress Party - led by Sonia Gandhi, Italian widow of former Indian prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi - is now unstoppable. So, how long will the BJP government last, a question everyone is asking First the facts: the BJP - with its allies - still retains a slim majority in parliament and is under no compulsion to hold mid-term elections.

In addition, prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee shows no sign of wanting to step down. He has four years to go and repeatedly indicates his wish to remain PM for a full five-year term.

None of Vajpayees allies in the coalition government show any inclination to desert him, and until they do, he is safe. Even Vajpayees unpredictable ally from Tamil Nadu, Jayalalitha, on whose support he depends, publicly backed him last week, a favour he is unlikely to forget.

Finally, the Congress party - undeniable victor - has announced it is not yet ready for government. Beneath the hype is a hard fact: the BJP will be around for some months yet.

CHANGES: Jaswant Singh, until now Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission and a trusted confidante of PM Vajpayee, has been appointed Indias foreign minister, a role he has been carrying out in all but name since the BJP came to power. Pramod Mahajan - one of the BJPs principal fund raisers and fixers (and until recently the PMs de facto spokesman) has been made Minister of Information and Broadcasting.

In Delhi, Sheila Dixit, has been sworn in as the new Congress Chief Minister, following the BJP rout in the recent polls. Delhi- seat of the BJP government is - now controlled by the opposition Congress party.