Opposition parties held talks today on future strategy and possible merger into one united party to contest general elections scheduled for March. One opposition leader, however, called for a boycott of the elections.
George Fernandes, chairman of the Socialist Party, who is imprisoned awaiting trial for an alleged conspiracy to overthrow the government, asked the national committee of his party to "issue a call to all big and small parties of the opposition to make common cause to boycott the elections."
The Indian Parliament was dissolved today in preparation for the elections.
At a meeting with journalism students at her home, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi repeated her promise that the emergency would be relaxed but said there would be no return to chaos and indiscipline.
She imposed it to counter alleged attempts by some groups to disrupt the economy and cause political paralysis.
If the emergency is not lifted she would still be able to implement its provisions including press censorship and detention without trial. Thousands of her political opponents were detained after the emergency, though many have been released recently.
Morarji Desai, a former finance minister and deputy prime minister, alleged that Gandhi did not want the opposition to be able to defeat her. "She wants an opposition but not an opposition to replace her," he said.
In a letter, Fernandes said "it would be suicidal" for the opposition to participate in "the sham elections." He asked the opposition parties "to deny Mrs. Gandhi the legitimacy she is trying to secure through illegitimate means."
Fernandes' letter said: "The emergency continues, the press stays muzzled, the radio, television and other media are used to sing glories of mother and son (Gandhi and her son, Sanjay), the sword of the Internal Security Act (which empowers the government to jail a person without trial up to two years) continues to hang over the heads of all political workers, who may dare criticize her, and, as of today, activists of political parties continue to rot in jail."