Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Indian Party Tested by Succession Assassination of Gandhi, Factional Infighting Leaves Once-Dominant Congress at a Loss

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Indian Party Tested by Succession Assassination of Gandhi, Factional Infighting Leaves Once-Dominant Congress at a Loss

Article excerpt

THE Congress (I) Party, architect of Indian independence and for years the centerpiece of power, is struggling for unity and survival after the death of its leader, Rajiv Gandhi.

Gandhi's Italian-born widow, Sonia, yesterday turned down the party's controversial offer to make her the new Congress president. In a brief statement, she said she could not accept a position because of the tragedy that had befallen her family.

Analysts say the Congress offer reflects the party's leadership vacuum and masks a behind-the-scenes power tussle to command the party, which has long been associated with the dynasty established by Rajiv's grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru.

For the first time in 44 years of independence, Congress must face the fact that there is no member of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty to take over, political observers say. At press time, Congress leaders had called a meeting to discuss the succession crisis.

"The Congress is full of dissension," says Bashiruddin Ahmed, an analyst at the Center for Policy Research. "This nomination is seen as the easy way out."

Rajiv Gandhi, a former prime minister vying to return to power, was killed in a bomb blast at a Tuesday campaign rally. The remainder of the three-day election, which began Monday, has been postponed until June 12 and 15. Officials are investigating the possibility that Gandhi's assassin was a woman strapped with powerful explosives who detonated the device as she bowed to touch the feet of the Indian leader, a sign of respect.

Speculation has focused on the Tamil Tigers, the Sri Lankan Tamil militant group, which fought the Indian Army after Gandhi ordered it into Sri Lanka under a 1987 peace accord. Officials have also not ruled out the possibility of involvement by Sikh militants, who blame Gandhi for 1984 riots in which scores of Sikh's died. Funeral today

In New Delhi, Mrs. Gandhi, her daughter Priyanka, and other relatives kept a stunned two-day vigil near Gandhi's coffin, which lay in state in his grandfather's house, where he spent most of his childhood. He will be cremated today. Outside the house, riot police and the military struggled to control thousands of restive mourners gathered to pay respects to the fallen politician. …

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