MADRAS, India, Jan 23, Reuter: Backed into a corner by a Crushing state election defeat, Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi attempted to divert the focus from his defeat by taking swift disciplinary moves against key members of his party.
“It is the worst political situation the Prime Minister has been in since coming to power in 1984,” One political analyst said after Tamil Nadu voters overwhelmingly rejected the Congress (I) party despite his hectic personal campaign.
”He must now use the rest of the year to repair the damage to his own and his party’s reputation,” CT. Kunen of the Madras Institute of Development Studies said on Monday.
Opponents said the humiliating weekend result left Gandhi facing problems on his Sri Lankan policy and a possible revolt by party leaders fearing defeat in a general election which must be held this year.
The landslide against the party in Tamil Nadu worse than anyone contemplated abruptly ended all talk of a general election earlier than December.
Congress won only 25 seats out of the 232 at stake to finish a poor third of four main contesting parties.
Kurien said the crisis was even worse than two years ago when the opposition accused Gandhi’s government of involvement in a series of corruption scandals.
”He will now have to go the full term and not think of early elections because he needs the time to recoup his loses,” said Kurien, an economic adviser to the Government.
Congress crashed to defeat at the hands of the regional party, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) despite a hectic election campaign undertaken by Gandhi.
“It is a defeat for the Prime Minister,” said DMK Chief Muthuvel Karunanidhi, whose party has joined the national front electoral alliance with six other patties in a bid to topple Gandhi.
One of the front’s most prominent leaders, Vishwanath Pratap Singh, said Gandhi would now face a rebellion within Congress from leaders fearing defeat in general elections.
The Prime Minister is always seen by his party members not just as their biggest vote getter, but also one who is able to swing an election with his own charisma,” said Singh who emerged as a major opposition leader by spearheading a campaign for clean government.
That ability is being seriously questioned after (by election) defeats in the north and Sunday’s loss in the south within a 12 month period,” Singh said.
Gandhi moved swiftly to limit the damage to his own and his party’s image by ordering key Lieutenant Arjun Singh to resign as Madhya Pradesh State Chief Minister immediately after a court ordered an inquiry in the running of a lottery associated with members of Singh’s family.
The move was aimed at signaling Gandhi’s intention to root out government corruption, an issue widely used by National Front Leaders in their Tamil Nadu campaign, said political analyst Cho Ramaswamy.
Gandhi also gave warning of stern measures to put down dissenters by forcing the resignations of Bihar Governor Govind Narain Singh and State Assembly speaker Shiv Chandra Jha, said Ramaswamy.
Singh and Jha had been locked in a dispute with Bihar Chief Minister Bhagwant Jha Azad over their constitutional powers. They resigned after Gandhi came out in support of Azad, Congress sources said.
Article extracted from this publication >> January 27, 1989