INTRODUCTION India's opposition parties made a triumphant impact at a mass rally in New Delhi on Sunday (6 February) at the start of their election campaign.
INTRODUCTION India's opposition parties made a triumphant impact at a mass rally in New Delhi on Sunday (6 February) at the start of their election campaign. It was in sharp contrast to another gathering the previous day when Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, had to cope with an unresponsive and restive audience.
SYNOPSIS: The opposition rally attracted an enthusiastic crowd of about 200-thousand at the vast Ramlila grounds, and suggested a new political mood is stirring in the capital after 20 months of tough emergency rule. But observers quoted by Reuters news agency say there are still five weeks before the elections, and the novelty of a hard-hitting, vocal opposition for the first time since the emergency, could wear off.
Mrs. Gandhi's former Agriculture Minister, Jagjivan Ram, drew an enthusiastic reception from the crowd. He's heading a group which broke from Mrs. Gandhi's ruling Congress party late last month. It joined forces with JANATA, an alliance of the four main non Communist parties for the rally.
Mr. Ram is the leader of India's tens of millions of Untouchables, the lowest Hindu caste. He told the crowd that India was being run by "one and a half people." It was a clear reference to Mrs. Gandhi and her son Sanjay, who emerged as a political force during the emergency. He also scorned the charge that the opposition forces were out to create instability and disorder and to put India at the mercy of external forces.
Pacifist reformer Jayaprakash Narayan, who was arrested last June, also spoke. He said individual freedoms and the people's right to choose the government would be major issues at the election.
The crowd's reaction to the speeches has reinforced a growing impression that Mr. Ram's deflection from the ruling party, along with two influential state leaders, had carried a tide of public opinion to the opposition camp. As a result, Mrs. Gandhi faces one of the most difficult challenges of her turbulent political career.