India's Rama Roa keeps Gandhi on guard

With the reinstatement on Sunday of the colorful and controversail N. T. Rama Rao as chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, at least the first chapter of a month-long political uproar came to a dramatic, and an embarrassed, end.

Dramatic for Mr. Rama Rao, the actor-turned-opposition politician, and embarrassed for Indira Gandhi, the Indian premier, whom Rama Rao and nearly all of politically conscious India had accused of a toppling bid.

On Thursday, Rama Rao will prove his majority in the southern Indian house, as unexpectedly as he was alleged to have lost it one month ago, after defections from his ruling party, the Telegu Desam - defections which, according to Rama Rao, were purchased by Mrs. Gandhi's Congress (I) Party.

It will be the first time in the history of independent India that a dismissed chief minister has regained power without going through the electoral process again.

This, in itself, in the eyes of a newly unified Indian opposition, vindicates the charge that Rama Rao - the third in a line of unruly opposition chief ministers - was, as the others, toppled on the instructions of the Indian premier.

In a country as vast as India, happenings in one part of the country rarely have a national spill-off effect. This was not the case with Rama Rao. The uproar burgeoned into Gandhi's most acute political embarassment since returning to power four years ago. It also catapulted Rama Rao onto the national political stage, where he could possibly challenge the Indian prime minister as a joint opposition candidate when national elections are held.

''In the final analaysis,'' said one Congress Party official, ''Rama Rao in office could be less damaging to us than Rama Rao out on the hustings protesting his overthrow.

''His ouster brought together terribly disparate elements in the opposition, and ideological differences were submerged. Now, they no longer have him as a rallying call, and perhaps all this talk of opposition unity will ultimately fall apart.'

Yet he remained dispirited, as many in the Congress Party are sounding these days, making a noble effort to dispel the impression that perhaps it was too late to salvage the party's prestige in the south, where, electorally, a good deal is at stake.

It is already assumed that, after the Army invaded the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Gandhi will loose Punjab's 13 parliamentary seats; and, she has begun to slip in her own northern, Uttar Pradesh constituency. The Muslim vote in Kashmir is highly questionable after Dr. Farouq Abdullah, India's only Muslim chief minister, was overthrown in July. As with Mr. Rama Rao, there was compelling evidence of Congress Party complicity in buying defector's votes.

Thus, if she would loose even half of the 89 parliamentary seats - 40 of them in Andhra - which she now holds from the south, the woman who has ruled India for nearly 16 years would be in danger of loosing her outright majority in the house.

But, in the final analysis, much depends on what India's opposition political parties are now prepared to do. Their concerted campaign for the reinstatement of Mr. Rama Rao has been their greatest single success, since they won the national elections in 1977. But will that unity hold?

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