NEW DELHI, NOV. 9 -- Socialist Chandra Shekhar was named India's next prime minister today, paving the way for a second successive minority government at a time of deepening religious, social and economic crises on the subcontinent.

India's head of state, President Ramaswamy Venkataraman, said in a statement that he selected Shekhar, an openly ambitious career politician who leads a parliamentary faction of about 56 members in a house of 544 seats, because "it will not be in the national interest to plunge the country into a general election at this time."

Following the collapse of ousted prime minister V. P. Singh's minority government this week amid religious and social unrest, most politicians said they opposed a fresh vote because it might exacerbate recent Hindu-Moslem violence, which has claimed more than 300 lives.

Shekhar is set to be sworn in Saturday morning and must prove his majority in Parliament by Nov. 20. The new government's survival is expected to depend entirely on support from the Congress Party of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, whose backing for Shekhar is widely seen here as a maneuver to allow the Congress Party more time to better prepare for an election.

Few Indian commentators expect Shekhar's government to last long, with some speculating that the Congress Party will withdraw support and head for the polls within six to 18 months.

For Shekhar, 63, an upper-caste landlord's son who has devoted his life to socialist politics but has never held a government office, today's announcement marks the culmination of a year-long campaign to replace his rival Singh, who remains leader of the centrist Janata Party. As Singh's problems worsened this fall, Shekhar engineered a split in the party and manuevered his breakaway faction, called the Janata Party (Socialist), into position to lead a new government.

Shekhar will inherit a host of problems, including an inflationary economy, violent secessionist movements in three states, heightened caste and Hindu-Moslem tensions, and a fractured, unstable polity.

His prospective cabinet, expected to be made up mainly of rural landlords, socialists, and career politicians with little experience in government, immediately will have to tackle a balance-of-payments crisis that drew Singh's government reluctantly into negotiations for assistance from the International Monetary Fund.

Foreign exchange reserves have reached a 10-year low, external debt levels have climbed to unprecedented heights, and international rating agencies have downgraded the country's credit-worthiness for the first time in years. Inflation has grown in recent months to an estimated 12 percent annual rate, higher than historical levels. Price rises have been fueled by a government budget deficit that is three times bigger, in relative terms, than that of the United States.

"Shekhar has put himself into a very awkward position," said A. N. Prabhu, New Delhi bureau chief of the Economic Times newspaper.

In his public pronouncements, Shekhar has blamed many of the country's economic problems on multinational corporations, and he has vowed to make it even more difficult for foreign companies to do business in India. But it is not clear whether the new prime minister will have the political strength to reverse the gradual economic liberalization begun several years ago by Gandhi and continued by Singh.

Speaking to reporters today, Shekhar said he would support liberalization of the economy as long as national resources were not allocated to the manufacture of what he called "luxury goods." He said, however, that he was not ready to spell out details of an economic program.

In foreign affairs, Shekhar appears to face fewer immediate challenges. Border tensions with Pakistan sparked by an uprising in the disputed state of Kashmir, which threatened to set off war six months ago, have eased recently.

Pakistan's recently elected rightist prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, based his campaign partly on a more aggressive posture toward India. But Sharif has made conciliatory statements directed at India since the election. In a brief comment today, Shekhar reciprocated, saying he sought the "best possible relations with neighbors."

Analysts said Indo-Pakistani relations were likely to remain unchanged for at least a few months. "Both countries have been substantially preoccupied with domestic issues," said Jajit Singh, director of the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses here. "And the new government {in India} seems likely to be preoccupied with getting on its feet."

Among India's political factions, the biggest winner from Shekhar's ascent would appear to be Gandhi's Congress Party, which was repudiated in a national election 11 months ago and has done little to improve its standing with voters. Now the party is well-positioned to organize itself for a new vote while rebuilding its identity among the electorate as a stable, centrist party.