FACING elections this year against a feisty opposition, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi has been forced to make public a controversial report about the 1984 assassination of his mother, then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. By releasing on Monday the inquiry report into Mrs. Gandhi's assassination, her son seems to have defused - at least temporarily - the uproar that has raged recently among his political foes.
The controversy over Mrs. Gandhi's murder was triggered by recent disclosures in the Indian Express, a newspaper that has repeatedly attacked Gandhi's government. Two weeks ago, the paper printed leaks from the report, prompting observers to believe that controversy was stirring within Gandhi's government over the reinstatement of Rajendra Dhawan, an influential aide to Mrs. Gandhi.
The report, completed in 1986 but suppressed by the government on grounds of ``national security,'' alleges that Mr. Dhawan may have been involved in a conspiracy to kill the prime minister.
However, Rajiv Gandhi, who recently reappointed Dhawan to the prime minister's staff, says a subsequent police investigation cleared Dhawan of any complicity. A summary of the police report clearing Dhawan also was released this week.
But Gandhi, who in the last year has been besieged by scandals and election defeats, has still to ride out the controversy that has raised emotions on the sensitive issue of Sikh separatism in the northwest state of Punjab.
``The tabling of the report in the parliament reflects the ebbing confidence of this government,'' says a New Delhi newspaper editor. ``If it refused, the opposition may have taken its cause to the streets.''
The tumult over Indira Gandhi's assassination comes as her son faces rebellions within his ruling Congress (I) party. Since his party's politically embarrassing legislative election loss in Tamil Nadu State in January, the prime minister has grappled with revolts in three key states in the party's Hindi-speaking stronghold in northern India.
Some Congress (I) members had threatened to release the report if Gandhi did not do so.
The government has long maintained that Mrs. Gandhi was killed in revenge for an Army raid she ordered in June 1984 on the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the holiest Sikh shrine. At least 1,200 people, many of them Sikhs, were killed in the raid, which was aimed at ousting armed Sikh extremists who had were using the shrine as a base. Militants began their armed battle for an independent homeland, ``Khalistan,'' in 1982. Sikhs, who comprise 2 percent of India's 880 million people, claim discrimination by the Hindus, who make up 80 percent of the population.
The 1986 inquiry suggested that a ``foreign power'' may have been behind Gandhi's murder. Though it did not name any country, Indian officials have long charged that Pakistan fueled the Sikh insurgency. But New Delhi has muted its charges since the death of dictator Mohammed Zia ul-Haq last year and the rise to power of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.