NEW DELHI, India, Feb.8, Reuter; Indian Prime Minister Rajiy Gandhi, battered last year by scandal and poor election: Results, looks like recovering and heartened advisors are thinking about midterm polls.
Gandhi lost a series of state elections last year and his hold on North India’s Hindi heartland, a major stronghold of his Congress (I) Party, appeared weakening. But his party won in Nagaland Last November and last week dislodged a well-entrenched Communist government from another small northeastern State, Tripura.
Congress also appeared set to form a coalition government in Meghalaya state near Tripura although it failed to retain its majority.
Opposition leaders said Gandhi is being urged by some advisors to. call a snap poll in the hope the party would keep its majority in Parliament, although perhaps nothing like the three fourths of the Lower House it now controls.
The advisors believe an outright win in December, 1989, when the Parliamentary elections are due, would be less likely unless Gandhi’s own image and popularity as well as the economy showed strong signs of revival.
His popularity waned last year and his image as “Mr. Clean” has suffered because of arms deal payoff allegations.
The Indian economy also has been hit by the worst drought of the century.
“A section of Gandhi’s advisers are impressing upon him that the situation is worsening, that the full impact of last year’s drought will be felt more this year and that the opposition is still disunited”, Lal Advani, President of the rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party, — (BJP), said.
He said there was no indication Gandhi would call a snap election but the government’s credibility was at an all-time low and he would be better off seeking a new mandate now.
Advani said his own party would prefer to wait until the end of 1989 as this would give it time to prepare.
A new complication is the death last month of the charismatic Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, M.G. Ramachandran.
He was a close ally of Gandhi and could have helped the Congress Party win Parliamentary elections in Tamil Nadu state while himself remaining in power at the state level.
Advani said it was a good Parliament and worked to the advantage of both Ramachandran and Gandhi.
His death split the ruling state party and Gandhi dismissed Ramachandran’s widow as the State’s new Chief Minister and put the state under direct New Delhi rule pending new state elections.
Muralidhar Bhandare, a Congress (I) member of parliament, is opposed to midterm national elections, but he said he would favor a snap ballot if the party won in Tamil Nadu.
“Meghalaya and Tripura are very important but they are not national indicators”, he said. “But we have to adjust to changing circumstances and unless there is a landslide victory in Tamil Nadu, I think we should not favor midterm polls, the debate continues.
Advani said he believed Gandhi would not seek a new mandate now but added: “I do hedge my statement by saying anything is possible”.
An opinion poll published by Sunday Magazine in Calcutta showed a big majority of people in five cities in the Hindi heartland believed priced of essential commodities had risen sharply in the past one year.
In four of the five cities, a majority said corruption had increased during Gandhi’s rule.
Yet, in two cities more than 50 percent and in the remaining more than 40 per cent said they would vote for the Congress against an opposition alliance,
The magazine’s editor M.J. Akbar, a leading political analyst, said: “The message, if any, is that no one quite has the next election sewn up, no matter what level of confidence they display in public. And if anyone has the edge it is still the Congress”.