On Monday (February 18) Mrs. Indira Gandhi's whirl-wind campaign in the state elections of Uttar?
On Monday (February 18) Mrs. Indira Gandhi's whirl-wind campaign in the state elections of Uttar Pradesh - India's largest state - took her to the Northern City of Muzaffarnagar. On February the 24th and 26th - the polling days - she faces one of the most crucial tests of her administration
A month ago, Mrs. Gandhi's Congress Party lost four seats in by-election for national parliament and the control of Maharashtra in a state election. Congress went into the campaign in Uttar Pradesh as the dominating party with 271 of the 426 seats in the state legislature. The next largest party has just 42 seats. Yet many observers are predicting that Congress has lost so much support that it could lose its overall majority. This would be a severe political defeat for Mrs. Gandhi.
While the country faces its worst economic crisis in years, the administration is blamed for rising prices in the shops and food shortages. Also allegations are being made of incompetence and corruption in government. A week ago rioting over these issues in the Western State of Gujarat forced Mrs. Gandhi to prorogue the state parliament and impose direct rule. Yet the election is of Mrs. Gandhi's own choosing. She could have postponed it for another three years.
The main threat to the Congress majority in Uttar Pradesh is posed by the right wing Jana Sangh party lead by L.K. Advani, who is seen in this film campaigning in Shamli not far from Muzaffarnagar. His part and its allies are putting up 424 candidates - as many as the Congress Party.
Religion is said to be important in the campaign. Congress has traditionally been supported by the state's Muslims and the Hindu Harijans (untouchables). If they do not turn out in large numbers, the Congress candidates face defeat by the Jan Sangh men with their strong support from the middle class and high-caste Hindus. Another threat is the Bharatiya Kranti Dal (BKD) party of ex-Congress members, who draw strong support from the largely peasant Jat Caste.
At the same time as the Uttar Pradesh election, state elections will also be held in the Orissa, Manipur and Pondicherry.