NEW DELHI, JULY 14 -- Prime Minister V.P. Singh offered to step down today, saying he had lost the people's confidence, but leaders of the governing party tried to persuade him to remain at his post.
Singh has been beset by party infighting, brought to a head by the resignations of three cabinet ministers on Friday and six junior ministers today. They were protesting a power play involving the deputy prime minister's efforts to maintain his family's power in Haryana state.
The issue has split Singh's Janata Dal party and highlighted the feuds within the political alliance that ousted prime minister Rajiv Gandhi of the Congress Party in last November's elections.
In his letter of resignation, Singh asked his Janata Dal party to chose a new leader to replace him.
He met with the party's top leaders at his official residence late into the night, but officials said the talks were "inconclusive." Results of the meeting were not expected to be made public until Sunday.
As the talks extended past midnight, Jaipal Reddy, the party's general secretary, said Singh had not yet retracted the resignation letter he had sent to the party's president, Sommappa Rayappa Bommai. Earlier, Bommai said he thought the resignation would be rejected.
"The party is united. The government will continue," Bommai said, before convening the late-night meeting between Singh and the party's decision-making body.
Singh, who took office seven months ago, said in his resignation letter that he had lost the trust of the people and the parties that make up his minority National Front coalition government.
The opposition Congress Party dismissed the political crisis as a fraud. "Frankly, I think it's a hoax. If the prime minister really wanted to resign he should have done the logical thing and gone to the president of India," said Congress Party spokesman M.J. Akbar. "It's a joke on the people of India."
Had Singh sent his letter of resignation to President Ramaswamy Venkataraman, it could have opened the way for elections or for Gandhi to form a new government.
The political crisis was precipitated when Deputy Prime Minister Devi Lal, an entrenched political patriarch in his native Haryana, reinstated his son, Om Prakash Chautala, as head of the state government.
Chautala was forced from office in May after 12 people died in repeated electoral violence in his district. One victim was an independent candidate for Chautala's seat.
Devi Lal, who preceded Chautala as chief minister of Haryana, resigned from Singh's government when his son was ousted, but supporters persuaded him to change his mind.
Late Friday, Commerce Minister Arun Nehru and Civil Aviation Minister Arif Mohammad Khan quit to protest what they saw as Singh's caving in to Devi Lal, and other resignations followed.
When Singh's party ousted Gandhi in elections last year it campaigned on an anti-corruption ticket. At the time, Singh criticized personality-based politics, singling out Gandhi's family, whose Congress Party has been out of power only three years since India became independent from Britain in 1947.
Singh assembled a government based on a five-party minority coalition that relied on the support of Communists and Hindu right-wingers. The only common ground has been antipathy to the Congress Party.
Critics charge that Singh's efforts to hold his party together have diluted his efforts to tackle problems, such as rising food and gas prices and separatist revolts by Sikhs in Punjab and Moslems in Kashmir.
Nearly 1,400 people have been killed by Sikh extremists this year, including 11 today. Eight of those killed today died during a foiled attempt to assassinate a senior police officer, the United News of India news agency reported.
Seven deaths in Kashmir today raised the toll there to 744 this year. Six of those killed today died when troops found their path blocked by a horsecart and opened fire on a jeering crowd, witnesses said. Army sources said the troop convoy was ambushed.