INTRODUCTION: India's General Election campaign is now at about the half-way stage. The election was?
INTRODUCTION: India's General Election campaign is now at about the half-way stage. The election was announced on January 18, and polling takes place in the third week in March. The campaign has produced a number of surprises, including the defection from the ruling Congress Party of one of Prime Minister Gandhi's ministers. It was also something of a surprise that the election was called at all.
SYNOPSIS: India's last general election was held in 1971. There should have been another last year, but it was twice postponed by Mrs. Gandhi's government. Mrs. Gandhi and the Congress Party won a massive majority in 1971. Mr. Jagjivan Ram. the Minister who has now defected, then proposed her formal re-election as party leader.
By 1974, the government's popularity was waning. Two bad harvests led to food shortages, and the much respected pacifist reformer Jayaprakash Narayan was heading a campaign against reputed corruption.
Then Mrs. Gandhi herself was convicted of corrupt electoral practices, and disqualified from office, in a case brought by Mr. Raj Narain, her constituency opponent.
She struck back with the arrest of opposition leaders, including Morarji Desai, who was 79 and her former Deputy Prime Minister. A state of emergency was proclaimed, and censorship imposed on the press. This was in June 1975. Mrs. Gandhi said the emergency was needed to preserve democracy.
Mrs. Gandhi was cleared by the Supreme Court, after she had ??? her massive Parliamentary majority to pass new laws, under which the offences of which she had been convicted were no lon??? illegal. Her fortunes began ??? revive. Stringent laws against speculation and hoarding, coupled with good harvests, he food prices steady; some even fell. But Mrs. Gandhi was still open to the charge of being dictatorial.
Her son Sanjay has also brought criticism on his mother's head. Sanjay Gandhi, who is 30, is a leader of the Congress Party's youth wing. He will fight a seat in the forthcoming election and has complained that many of the leading figures in the Congress are too old.
The non-Communist opposition, which had been fragmented in the past, has united into the Janata or People's Party. Its leaders are veterans too. Mr. Narayan 74 and in poor health. Mr. Desai, who was released from prison when the election was announced, is almost 81.
Mr. Jagjivan Ram, the recently resigned Minister, has formed his own group, the Congress for Democracy, but is supporting the Janata Party. His electoral importance is that he is the acknowledged leader of the Harijan caste, who have a block of 116 seats reserved for them in Parliament.
Mrs. Gandhi's 11-year rule is being strongly challenged. But a political leader of her experience is unlikely to have called an election from choice unless she thinks she can win it.