Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee formally stepped down, after results showed a shock defeat of the coalition he heads, the National Democratic Alliance.
Leaders from the prime minister's Bharatiya Janata Party, or B-J-P, and its allies have expressed surprise at the outcome. Mr. Vajpayee called the election six months earlier than necessary, after a string of political successes. Earlier this year, India reopened peace talks with neighboring Pakistan, after months of deadlock. India's economy also grew by seven percent last year, making it one of the world's fastest growing.
Hoping to capitalize on those successes, the B-J-P campaign slogan was India Shining. But analysts say the campaign backfired, because it only highlighted the poverty afflicting millions of rural Indians.
The Congress Party says it is meeting to choose the new prime minister and to plan the new government. Analysts say Mrs. Gandhi, who was born in Italy, is a strong possibility to serve as prime minister. As the widow of the assassinated prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, many Indians regard her as heir to the Gandhi political dynasty. But to others, she is unacceptable, because of her foreign birth.