Mrs. Gandhi wafts toward victory in India
An Indira Gandhi breeze is blowing through the crowded cities and dusty villages of the world's most populous democracy. That breeze is expected to be just enough to blow Mrs. Gandhi into yet another term as prime minister of 650 million Indians who account for one-fifth of all humanity.Skip to next paragraph
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Here in New Delhi, India's handsome capital city of over 5 million people, where the rich smells of incense and curry spice the crisp night air, political pundits voice an instinctive feeling that Mrs. Gandhi will soon be back in power. If so, her rehabilitation will represent one of the most astonishing political turnabouts in modern times -- something akin to Richard Nixon becoming president again of the United States.
Politically disgraced because of the excesses of her previous rule and thrown out of office in 1977 -- and since then enmeshed in a clutch of court disputes -- Mrs. Gandhi has brilliantly maneuvered her way back into the forefront of Indian public life. She has achieved this with a very limited political base.
Her deftness as a tactician prompted a former US ambassador to India to call her the most skillful politician since Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
No other political leader in the democratic world has a party, the Congress-I -- I for Indira -- named after him or her. It illustrates Mrs. Gandhi's utter dominance of her own political machine.
And no other contemporary world leader has bounced back from the political wilderness with such astonishing rapidity as Indira Gandhi. Says one Western diplomat:
"She is a genuine phoenix. As of last June she was written off. She was fighting the courts and trying to keep afloat. Now, if I were a Congress-I supporter, I would be feeling very encouraged. Everyone you speak to expects Mrs. Gandhi to win."
The pro-Gandhi mood is evident here in New Delhi, where impatient pedicabs dash through the congested traffic like swarms of angry hornets and Indian families seize on every available strip of green to play cricket. Indians went to the polls in stages on Jan. 3 and [Word Illegible]. The winner will be known early this week.
Outside one polling booth a smartly suited Sikh in a midnight-blue turban, transporting his mother cowled in a red sari and sitting sidesaddle on the back of his scooter, says: "The people want stability." It was an allusion to a growing impression that for all the excesses of her 20-months emergency, which ended in 1977, Mrs. Gandhi brought discipline and order to the economic and political scene. A service-station attendant outside a tea shop says, "The poor man wants Indira to come again. Inflation is very hard." A pint-sized, barefoot newspaper boy in rags tugs at a visitor's sleeve and then holds on. "Newspaper, my friend, newspaper," he pleads with intense charcoal eyes, then adds, "You vote Mrs. Gandhi? Yes? You vote Mrs. Gandhi?"
The election seems to revolve around this single issue: Indira Gandhi. In fact, however, the outcome hinges on a host of regional parties and three major candidates. They are: Mrs. Gandhi; Jagjivan Ram; and caretaker Prime Minister Charan Singh, whose Lok Dal party is not given much chance.