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Gandhi win means strong leadership

In a victory of monsoon proportions Indira Gandhi has swept away all meaningful oppsition and received her nation's stamp of approval for the kind of strong government it rejected less than three years ago.

The masses who adore her are jubilant -- the taxi driver taking this reporter to Mrs. Gandhi's personal residence went off the road in his excitement.

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The newspapermen and middle-class intellectuals who have suffered in the past from her draconian emergency are ashen. "Oh no, not her again," moaned one sharp critic of Mrs. Gandhi.

For the leaderless minority Muslims whom she wooed in this election and who spurned her in the last election, there is relief that an ardent secularist is taking over at a time of rising Muslim-Hindu tensions.

The magnitude of her electoral triumph is so enormous that even her most optimistic supporters are dazed by it. "I can't believe it," several of them exclaimed as they followed early returns. Nobody here recalls a pundit, journalist, candidate, or even a local teawallah who would predict a victory of such landslide proportions.

Here are some of the dimensions of that win and the implications of a Gandhi victory for India:

* Within a few hours te polls closed, some of her party's candidates were romping home with straggering one lakh (100,000) vote majorities.

* Within a few hours after the polls closed, the hand, the symbol of Mrs. Gandhi's party, was coming up in victory salutes all over the vast Hindi-speaking north. In the 1977 elections Mrs. Gandhi managed to win only one seat in this entire area, crucial for electoral victory. It now appears she is grabbing whole states.

* Within a few hours after the polls closed, prominent candidates from both the far left and the far right were falling before the Gandhi juggernaut.

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Although Mrs. Gandhi will view the results as a vindication of her personally and of her much-criticized state of mergency, the outcome is more a negative vote against the nonperformance of the existing government than wholesale endorsement of Mrs. Gandhi.

In the process, though, she may well have upset the scenario of numerous political experts and of Gen. sir John Hackett who, in his best-selling book "The Third World War: August, 1985," envisaged an India balkanized into several different and opposing states in the 1980s because of the weakness at the center.

Instead, given the massive mandate, Mrs. Gandhi is expected to go to work at once in imposing is expected to go to work at once in imposing a strong central autority over the land, curbing civil disorders, political strife, runaway inflation, and labor unrest. In typical decisive no-nonsence Gandhi fashion the prime minister-to-be has reportedly already called in a group of economists to find out what can be done to repair the damage.

In a significant foreign policy switch that will be watched closely by other wavering nonaligned nations, she will recognized the pro-Vietnamese regime of Heng Samrin in Cambodia. This certainly will please Moscow. At the same time political experts here are quick to point out that Mrs. Gandhi is not compulsively pro-moscow, as some of her Western critics like to think.

Her signing of the Indo-soviet friendship treaty in 1971 and her acceptance of lavish Soviet arms are viewed here more as Mrs. Gandhi's response to the so-called Nixon tilt toward India's traditional antagonist, Pakistan. Pragmatism rather than ideology dictates Mrs. Gandhi's actions, it is said here.

"Sanjay [her son] is a capitalist. Indira is Indira," is one comment heard around New Delhi. It is pointed out, for instance, that even before the state of emergency in 1975 Mrs. Gandhi had already moved away from India's close relationship with Moscow.

On the domestic front, communists now are opposed to her, and she has therefore less reason to cater to communist pressures or concerns. Despite her socialist rhetoric her socialism is branded more as "signboard socialism."

One non-Indian source well informed on US-Indian relations commented, "I object to the knee-jerk assumption that she will necessarily work for the Soviets against the US. May view is that she is a very realistic woman with lots of experience and one who is very apprehensive of the impact on India of events in Afghanistan."

Mrs. Gandhi's own reaction to the Soviet takeover in Afghanistan has been cautious. She is critical but falls short of outright condemnation, suggesting certain mitigating factors in favor of the Soviet Union.

Mrs. Gandhi is expected to concentrate initially, though, on trying to arrest the sense of malaise in the country and getting strong government going again.

This time, however, she is likely to tread much more gently in those areas such as sterilization and slum clearance that brought such a sharp voter backlash in the last election. "She has learned her lesson. She won't try that again," says one commentator on the Indian political scene.

Those who perhaps have most to fear from the return of Mrs. Gandhi are the middle- class intellectuals and newspapermen, many of whom were thrown into jails when they incurred her displeasure.

The big question now is who will join Mrs. Gandhi in her Cabinet. Says one political analyst, "You have only to go down the list of people who have served Mrs. Gandhi to realize precious few are still around." They either dropped Mrs. Gandhi or she dropped them.


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