Dissidents in Prime Minister V.P. Singh's Janata Dal party said Monday they no longer recognize the prime minister as head of the party, but Singh loyalists expressed confidence in the embattled leader.
The developments seemed to suggest a Janata Dal split, with both camps claiming a majority of party legislators.Senior Janata Dal leader Chandra Shekhar, who along with former deputy prime minister Devi Lal is behind the dissident movement, said he would meet President R. Venkataraman later Monday and request that he be allowed to form a fresh government.
The dissident faction reported that 68 of the 140 Janata Dal members of the lower house of Parliament attended their meeting. Lal and Shekhar say they have enough support in the party to form a new government with the backing of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi's Congress Party.
Congress officials have said that they would support a Janata Dal government headed by someone other than Singh.
Supporters of the prime minister held a separate meeting, during which they expressed faith in Singh's leadership. A Janata Dal spokesman said the meeting of the dissidents was "illegal."
The spokesman said that 83 Janata Dal legislators of the lower house of Parliament attended their meeting.
Exactly how many Janata Dal party legislators attended each meeting could not be independently determined.
The 11-month-old administration was plunged into its worst crisis Oct. 30 when it arrested L.K. Advani, president of the right-wing Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, after he failed to halt a controversial campaign to relocate a 460-year-old Moslem mosque and begin construction of a temple to honor an important Hindu god.
The arrest prompted the BJP to withdraw its crucial support from the Singh government.