New Delhi, India: The decimation of India’s opposition in parliamentary elections has raised fears that democracy will be stifled by a domineering rule of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress Party. Political commentators agree the squabbling opposition parties and their old leaders have no one to blame but themselves for their rout. But they warn the untested Gandhi against accepting the result as a mandate for arrogant domination of the world’s biggest Western-style democracy. “A massive mandate can make a regime smug and unresponsive,”’ the noted political columnist H. K. Dua wrote in the independent Indian Express. “(It) can be heady wine for the Congress. The margin of victory can make the party complacent and forget the promises it has made to the people …’’ The respected India Today newsmagazine said: “‘It could reduce Parliament to a rubber stamp operation and stall the reform of political institutions .It could make for an arrogant ruling party which whitewashes yesterday’s sins.’’ Never in 37 years of independence has the opposition been so under-represented in the Lok Sabha, the governing lower house of parliament. When the eighth Lok Sabha convenes for its first session Jan. 15, opposition parties will fill less than one-fifth of the 507 seats contested. Gandhi has more than the two-thirds majority needed to make changes in the constitution, including the long-debated pro-posed shift to a presidential form of government. The so-called national opposition parties won only 47 seats among them and lost most of their best known leaders and possible candidates for prime minister in parliament. The main survivor was 83-year-old former Prime Minister but his Oppressed Worker-Farmer Party won only three seats. “What can I do alone?’’ asked Singh. ‘So many of my colleagues have lost.” For the first time, the major opposition in parliament will be a regional Charan Singh, party, the Telegu Desam of former movie star N. T. Rama Rao, chief of Andhra Pradesh state. It won 28 seats, all in Andhra Pradesh, and has little or no following in the rest of the country. Next in strength is the Marxist Communist Party with 22 seats. Its influence is confined primarily to West Bengal, where it controls the state government. Plagued by bickering, the opposition failed to form an electoral alliance and wound up splitting the vote by fielding several candidates for each seat. During the campaign, Gandhi Dlistered opposition leaders, accusing them of being anti-Indian, of cooperating with terrorists and secessionists. The opposition turned off voters by promising a coalition government reviving memories of the 1977-79 government led by the Janata (People’s) Party which fell apart amid factional feuding. Besides Rama Rao and Farooq Abdullah, the former chief minister of Kashmir, few opposition leaders with national standing are left. Despite the magnitude of the Congress victory, close to half the vote went to other parties, indicating there still is a huge opposition constituency to be garnered. By winning 49 percent of the vote from the 60 percent of the electorate that took part, Congress has popular support of only 29 percent of the voting population.

Article extracted from this publication >> January 11 1985