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India's Marxists admit they may have been premature in sounding the death knell of capitalism.

So they have dedicated themselves anew to fighting the liberal economic policies of the New Delhi government.

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"We are the strongest Communist Party in the world," said Harikishan Singh Surjeet, general-secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), after its annual conference last week.

"We were dazzled by the scientific achievements of the Soviet Union and the recent developments came as a total surprise," he admitted to reporters.

But the conference was "convinced that the basic tenets of Marxism and Leninism are correct," he said.

The conference vowed to mobilize the mass discontent it saw emerging as Prime Minister Narasimha Rao welcomes foreign investors, slashes red tape, and pushes plans to privatize India's vast industrial public sector.

The party also hopes to tap nationalist sentiment in India, which had pursued an ideal of socialist self-sufficiency after winning independence from Britain in 1947.

"The country will be subject to the diktats of the United States," Mr. Surjeet said of Rao's 1991 reforms, which persuaded the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to loan $4 billion to ease a crisis over India's $71 billion foreign debt.

"India will have lost its sovereignty," he said.

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With just 35 seats in the 545-seat lower house of parliament, the party still wields some influence in India through powerful public sector trade unions and thanks to Mr. Rao's lack of a parliamentary majority, which makes every vote count.

The conference subjected itself to self-criticism for failing to foresee the collapse of Soviet communism, but rededicated itself to mobilizing the 40 percent of Indians who live below internationally defined poverty lines.

"One of the first lessons we should learn [from the Soviet collapse] is that the party must be run on democratic lines. The basic units must be active, and there should be constant communication between them and the top leadership," Surjeet said.

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