Chandra Shekhar was sworn in Saturday as the country's new prime minister, facing what he called a "grim and challenging" task to quell widespread unrest that helped topple his predecessor.

The 63-year-old socialist leader took the oath from President Ramaswamy Venkataraman outside the presidential palace.Chandra Shekhar, who led efforts to unseat V.P. Singh as prime minister, pledged Friday that his government will seek "to create a society of equals" in a nation where thousands have died this year in battles over religious, ethnic and class differences.

The clashes were used to rally opposition against Singh, the first Indian prime minister to be ousted by Parliament. He lost a confidence vote Wednesday. "In all humility, I would like to say that the task before us is arduous," Shekhar said Friday. "It is so grim and challenging. But one has to make every endeavor to retrieve the situation."

At least 370 people have died in the past three weeks in Hindu-Moslem riots over a 460-year-old mosque that some Hindus claim was build on the site of the warrior god Rama. Hindus seeks to raze the mosque in Ayodhya in northeast India and build a temple.

Meanwhile, at least 150 upper-caste students have committed suicide or died in clashes with police to protest Singh's attempt to reserve more government jobs for low-caste Hindus.

Violent separatist campaigns in Kashmir and Punjab in the north and Assam in the east have cost thousands of lives.