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 You are in: Special Report: 1998: India Elections  
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EDITIONS
Friday, 6 March, 1998, 16:23 GMT
Causes of the election
Prime Minister Gujral was forced out last November
Indian President K.R. Narayanan disbanded the lower house of parliament on December 4, 1997. This came after the Congress party withdrew its support for I K Gujral's minority coalition government which was then forced to resign.

Congress President Sitaram Kesri
Without the support of Congress, the 15-party United Front government could not stand. Once the government collapsed, it became clear in the following days that no party could form a stable coalition government and an election was called.

The Congress Party was directly responsible for precipitating the election. It wanted Gujral to drop a Southern Indian party from the 15 party United Front coalition. The party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (DMK), represents Southern Tamils.

Congress wanted the DMK removed after it was linked to Sri Lankan Tamil separatists who were involved in the assassination of former Congress prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. The "Jain Report" into the assassination led to rowdy scenes in the Indian parliament and Congress said that if the DMK was not dumped then it would bring down the government.

The role of Sonia Gandhi

Sonia Gandhi and her daughter pay homage to assassinated Rajiv Gandhi
It is believed that within Congress, it was Sonia Gandhi, Rajiv's Italian-born widow, who precipitated the crisis by saying that she was unhappy with the DMK being in the government. The leaders of Congress, especially its President Sitaram Kesri, believed that this was a sign that if they brought down the government, she might be willing to return to active politics.

The Gandhi family have an almost mythical appeal both to Congress and the Indian electorate and it was hoped by Kesri and others that Sonia could help revive the ailing party's fortunes.

Congress as power broker

The coalition had been in government for seven months. It was a minority coalition but has been backed by the Congress party, even though Congress was not formally part of the coalition.

Rajiv Gandhi's coffin (1991)
Congress hoped that the emotive issue of the assassination would work to their advantage in the elections.

Twenty-six of 29 people involved in the 1991 assassination were sentenced to death on January 28th.

Analysts say that Congress' role in bringing down the government is likely to damage it in the polls. The major beneficiary could be the Hindu nationalist, party, the BJP.

Last time round

The last elections took place in early 1996. The Hindu nationalist BJP emerged as the largest party, with 194 members in the 545 member lower house.

Congress had around 140 seats. But after a short period of trying to form a government, the BJP failed and eventually the United Front and Congress worked together to keep the BJP out.

In March 1997, Congress forced then prime minister H D Deve Gowda out of office and he was replaced by I K Gujral.

See also:

04 Dec 97 | Despatches
Links to more India Elections stories are at the foot of the page.


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