India’s ruling Congress battles mounting criticism over reforms

NEW DELHI, July 8, 2006 (AFP) – India’s ruling Congress party moved into damage control on Saturday after an embarrassing U-turn on privatisation sparked rumours that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was quitting. “There are no differences, and will never be, between the party and the prime minister. We stand as one,” Singh’s Congress party spokeswoman Jayanti Natarajan told reporters in New Delhi.

Natarajan was forced to issue the vote of confidence in Singh after disputes erupted between the Congress party and its coalition partners on economic reforms and other issues.

Singh was forced to call off stake sales in two state-run firms in the face of threats from a key ally to withdraw from the coalition in protest over the privatisation plans.

The crisis sparked rumours of Singh’s resignation and came after stinging criticism from his own Congress party and the government’s communist allies for rising inflation and higher fuel prices.

In an attempt to stem the mounting criticism, Singh planned to meet with the communists, who prop up the government in parliament but have been harsh critics of Singh’s economic reforms, a Congress official said Saturday.

He will also meet other coalition partners