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1980: Gandhi returned by landslide vote

The people of India have voted Indira Gandhi back into power - less than three years after rejecting her "emergency dictatorship".

When the last of the 196 million votes in national elections were counted, her Congress (Indira) party had won 351 of the 525 contested seats in the lower house of parliament, or Lok Sabha.

Mrs Gandhi's triumph virtually wiped out her party's two major contenders. Neither the Janata nor the Lok Dal party gained the requisite 54 seats to qualify for recognition as the official opposition.

Underscoring the extent of her victory, was the election of her son Sanjay, who had been blamed for many of the excesses of the emergency rule. He is out of prison on appeal against his conviction for stealing then destroying the master copy of a film satirizing his mother's rule.

Suspicion

Mrs Gandhi, who had ruled India for 11 years until 1977, successfully appealed to India's rural masses with her two election slogans, "Banish Poverty" and "Law and Order".

During the 63-day campaign, the 62-year-old gave up to 20 speeches a day during a 40,000 mile tour of 384 constituencies.

But Mrs Gandhi's political comeback will be viewed with suspicion. During the 19 months of emergency rule, introduced after she was accused of electoral malpractice, democracy was suspended, many opposition politicians were imprisoned and a compulsory birth control programme was introduced.

When Mrs Gandhi sought to have the regime legitimised through the polls, she was defeated by Morarji Desai's Janata party.

The last time she appeared in parliament was in 1978 when she was expelled on charges involving harassment of government officials during the emergency. She is still under investigation on charges of abuse of power, although the assumption is these will now be shelved.

Her electoral victory is partly due to the break-up last summer of the fragile coalition which formed the Janata party, leaving caretaker prime minister Charan Singh in control.

As news of Mrs Gandhi's victory spread, strings of coloured festive lights were strung up around her New Delhi home.

Thousands of people have converged on the bungalow, which was built for officials of the Raj.

In Context
Indira Gandhi's first formal speech after her election victory spoke of compromise, even for her opponents.

She said the nation had to be lifted from the "ruinous state" into which it had fallen.

Her son Sanjay was later killed in an air crash.

In 1984 she ordered the storming of the Golden Temple in Amritsar to flush out Sikh militants who were pursuing self rule for Punjab.

Two months later she was assassinated by her own Sikh bodyguards.

Her eldest surviving son, Rajiv, succeeded her as prime minister. He, too, was assassinated, in 1991, by supporters of the Tamil Tigers in retaliation for ordering the deployment of troops in Sri Lanka.

His widow, Sonia, took over the leadership of the Congress party in 1998.

In 2004, she won the general election and returned Congress to power.

But she unexpectedly refused to take up the post of prime minister, handing it instead to former finance minister Manmohan Singh.


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