India, the world's most populous democracy has a general election on December 24.
ALIGARH, INDIA, DECEMBER 1, 1984: REUTERS - PREM PRAKASH
GVs & SVs Helicopter carrying Rajiv Gandhi lands as crowd watches. Rajiv waves to crowd. GV ZOOM TO SV Rajiv on podium addressing rally. (5 SHOTS)
NEW DELHI, AUGUST 15, 1984: REUTERS - SURINDER KAPOOR
GVs & SVs Indira Gandhi inspecting guard of honour. Indian flag raised at independence celebrations.
DELHI, 1980 ( REUTERS)
SVs Sanjay Gandhi's body lying in state. (5 SHOTS)
Background: India, the world's most populous democracy has a general election on December 24. Latest opinion say the 300 million eligible voters will deliver a landslide victory for Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's Congress (I) Party with 366 of the 511 Parliamentary seats at stake. A total of 5,300 candidates will contest the elections -- up by 681 from the last national polls in 1980. The election is taking place in the twin shadows of the Bhopal gas leak tragedy and Indira Gandhi's assassination. The latter has clearly derailed the once strong effort by Mrs Gandhi's daughter-in-law Maneka to oust Rajiv from his parliamentary seat in Uttar Pradesh. Observers say that Gandhi, India's youngest leader at 40, will be swept to per on a wave of sympathy.
SYNOPSIS: Rajiv campaigning in Uttar Pradesh. It is his family's home state and the heart of the so-called Hindi belt -- the six northern states that fill 40 per cent of the seats in Parliament. In his speeches he has stressed the need for national unity.
Indira Gandhi had ruled India since 1966 apart from a spell of three years. even then, she returned with a landslide majority in 1980 over the short-lived Janata Party -- a coalition of opposition groups. She also had plans for founding a dynasty which were apparently dashed when her son Sanjay was killed in an air crash.
But long before her assassination on October 31, there had been widespread protests against her government culminating in Sikh unrest in the siege of the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Mrs Gandhi ordered the army to attack the temple, the Sikh's holiest shrine, and more than 500 people died.
Militant Sikhs had demanded the creation of a separate state within the Punjab. The storming of the Golden Temple marked a watershed in Indian politics. It showed the inner tensions among India's 700 million people with the vast diversity of culture, religious and historical influences.
On October 31 Mrs Gandhi was murdered by her own Sikh bodyguards and the political life of the sub-continent was thrown into turmoil. In the wake of the murder violence flared again between Hindus and Sikhs and for some time there were fears of anarchy.
In Andhra pradesh there was communal violence between Hindus and Moslems following the dismissal of former film star Rama Rao as Chief Minister. He was re-instated by Mrs Gandhi but his dismissal was seen as a major test of strength between the opposition and the Congress Party.
Another source of opposition comes from Sanjay's widow Maneka, seen her filing her nomination papers. She is in direct competitions with Rajiv but her chances look slim now following the assassination of Mrs Gandhi. The opposition parties seem not to have learnt the lesson of 198 and appear to be fragmenting in the key northern sates. Former Prime Minister Charan Singh now President of the Dalit Mazdoor Kisan Party (DMKP) held his own meeting before sending a representative to another gathering organised by former Kashmir Chief Minister Doctor Farooq Abdullah. But he meeting failed to agree on opposition and the parties seem more divided than ever -- thus allowing the Congress Party to dominate the key Hindi belt.
But when nominations closed on November 27 a seat-sharing arrangement was agreed. Janata President Chandrasekhar filed his nomination the town of Ballia. Thousands of supporters turned out to greet him. He has attacked the Government on its economic record and its problems of national unity.
Bhopal, where a poisonous gas cloud from the Union Carbide Plant killed some 2,500 people, has cast along shadow over the election. Any future prime minister will have to face the difficult problem of foreign multi-nationals setting up in the country. But perhaps the main problem will always be one of unity and may critics question Rajiv's political inexperience. He recently stressed his commitment to democracy.