ALLAHABAD, India, June A 19, Reuter: A former prince’s landslide win in a byelection here has shown India’s fragmented opposition the way to defeat Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by uniting behind a charismatic leader.

Vishwanath Pratap Singh’s performance in Allahabad, long a stronghold of the ruling Congress (I) Party, has firmly established him as just the leader the opposition needs.

Singh, a 56-yearold former Cabinet Minister who campaigned from the back of a motorcycle, crushed Gandhi’s candidate by 110,000 votes in Thursday’s poll.

“He had to contest a prestigious seat like Allahabad, with the support of almost all the major opposition parties, to really emerge as a national leader,” said Vijay Singh Mankhotia, a member of the Assembly of nearby Himachal Pradesh state.

V.P. Singh was elected to the Upper House of Parliament on a Congress (I) ticket in 1984, in general elections called by Gandhi after he succeeded his assassinated mother Indira.

He quit Gandhi’s cabinet last year to launch a campaign against corruption, accusing government officials of accepting bribes in defense contracts,

His campaign has been credited with helping opposition candidates to victory in three other constituencies where byelections took place on Thursday.

Congress won two of the contests and the outcome of voting in two more constituencies has not yet been decided.

Singh, who derives a lot of his support from big landowners, told Reuters the byelection victories proved that an opposition alliance specifically limited to elections could succeed against Congress.

“We cannot merge opposition parties, but we can have united action ina specific election,” Singh said.

“V.P. Singh became (a national) candidate the day he quit Rajiv Gandhi’s cabinet in protest against corruption in the government,” said Mankhotia, who quit the Congress Party to join Singh’s Jan Morcha (People’s Front).

Congress sources said the immediate threat to Gandhi after Singh’s victory was the possibility of splits within the ruling party, especially in the electorally crucial Hindi speaking heartland of North India.

But they said Gandhi did not have to call elections until the end of 1989, and while the front had done well in the byelections, Congress still controlled two thirds of Parliamentary seats.

Singh’s candidacy as opposition chief has been endorsed by leaders of other opposition parties, including the Chief Minister of the LokDal-ruled Haryana State, Devi Lal.

But there are serious differences among the parties which supported Singh at Allahabad, cautioned Murli Manohar Joshi, General Secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a rightwing Hindu group.

Joshi said the byelections were the last time the BJP would form an electoral front including communists, and doubted a common economic platform could be devised to unite all opposition parties.

Singh’s alignment with the left leaning Janata and the Communists prevented him from speaking during his campaign about the liberal economic policies he introduced as Finance Minister in Gandhi’s government.

He is credited with relaxing controls on imports and reducing personal and wealth taxes, moves which were opposed by leftist parties and praised by the BJP.

Joshi also said there were differences of opinion within the opposition front on religious and caste issues, factors which play key roles in Indian elections.

But Singh performed consistently well throughout Allahabad, indicating his acceptance by different caste and religious communities, said economist Mohan Guruswami.

“V.P. Singh’s anticorruption campaign has cut across caste and religious lines. This is why the Congress could not win in Allahabad,” Guruswami said.

Congress (I) spokesman Ghulam Nabi Azad dampened this optimism by saying the byelections had focused public attention on local issues such as civic amenities.

“Byelection issues do not include corruption… it will not even be an issue in the general elections,” said Azad.

Article extracted from this publication >> June 24, 1988