India's long-dominant Congress Party sought to take advantage of political disarray Friday and return to power, after Hindu nationalists foundered in their own attempt to form a government.

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party came in first in this winter's parliamentary elections but failed to win the outright majority of seats that would let it govern alone. Its negotiations to form a coalition government stalled when it refused to meet the demands of one key potential partner.Seizing the chance offered by the BJP's troubles, Congress Party started new talks with members of India's incumbent United Front alliance on its own possible coalition government.

"We told the president we are in the process of exploring the possibility of forming a government," Congress Party chief Sitaram Kesri said today.

The Hindu Party's leader, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had hoped to present President K.R. Narayanan with enough formal support from potential coalition partners to persuade the president to swear him in as prime minister. The support he had counted on from J. Jayalalitha's All-India Anna Dravida Munetra party, however, did not materialize.

The president is authorized by the constitution to install a new government after general elections, an easy task if there is a clear winner who commands a majority. This year's ambiguous result forces the president to make a choice between competing alliances to ensure that India has a stable government.

The president first turned to Vajpayee because his party won the most seats in the recent elections, 178. The Congress Party and its allies control 166 seats and the United Front, 96.