Hindu Right Wing Gains at Gandhi's Expense in State Polls
STATE elections in India are producing an uneasy outcome for both former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and his successor, Vishwanath Pratap Singh. Mr. Gandhi's Congress (I) Party fell from power in all but two of eight states where Indian voters chose new legislative assemblies last Tuesday. The debacle throws into doubt Gandhi's political future and that of his family's dynastic hold on power in post-independence India, analysts say.
The results also pose dilemmas for Mr. Singh, whose centrist party, called the Janata Dal, is likely to form governments by itself or with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in most states.
While the outcome for the Janata Dal was somewhat disappointing, the strong showing of the BJP, which supports Singh's minority government from the outside, likely will increase the clout of right-wing Hindus at the center.
Rising Hindu fundamentalism has raised fears over discrimination against India's huge Muslim minority and questions about the secular nature of its democratic system.
Analysts say the BJP's growing influence could force Singh into a harder line on Kashmir where the Hindu right wing has favored a tough stance against Muslim insurgents and against Pakistan's support for the Kashmiri cause.
``These results may very well split the Congress and sideline Rajiv Gandhi,'' says a Western diplomat here. ``Since the BJP did well, it will be harder for Singh to work out a way to quiet Kashmir.''
The outcome of the state elections is expected to fuel political uncertainty and push the country toward a major political realignment. About 100 people died in the polling amid widespread fraud, the worst violence ever in an Indian election.
A revolt against Gandhi has been widely rumored since he lost his party's huge parliamentary majority in a national election last year. The former prime minister has failed to win any major election since his overwhelming victory in 1984 after the assassination of his mother, the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
In the state polls' aftermath, Congress leaders were playing down the possibility of a rebellion against Gandhi. ``I don't foresee a split at all because there is no issue over which we differ,'' said Congress (I) secretary V.N. Gadgil.
However, political observers say a splintering in the party could drive disillusioned Congress members into Singh's camp.
If Singh's party had made a better showing at the state level, he could have tried to distance himself from the BJP and rally dissident Congress members into a more centrist alliance. However, in the wake of the election results, the prime minister will have to deal with a more powerful BJP, political observers say.
Singh could push to bring the BJP into his government. But the BJP may make controversial demands as a price for this continued support, analysts say. The Hindu right wing has been pushing for a review of the constitutional privileges of Muslims and has urged Singh to take a tough stance against Muslim separatists in Kashmir where 7,000 Hindu and Sikh families have fled recently, state officials said yesterday.