India's main opposition parties drew a bigger and more enthusiastic crowd today than Prime Minister Indira Gandhi did yestrday as they launched their election campaign.
The Janata alliance of the four main non-Communist opposition parties joined forces at the mass rally with a group led by former Agriculture Minister Jagjivan Ram, which broke away from Gandhi's ruling Congress Party last week.
The rally was held at the Ramilila ground, where Gandhi had trouble yesterday with restive crowds and was forced to cut short the speech opening her campaign.
Police and other sources said today's crowd, estimated 200,000 was even larger than yesterday's Congress Party rally. It was markedly more enthusiastic and responsive, reinforcing the impression that Ram's defection from the ruling party, along with that of two influential state leaders, has carried a tide of public opinion to the opposition camp.
The crowd squatted, stood or sat for three hours in the open air and listened attentively to half a dozen speakers lambast Gandhi for her declaration of emergency rule a year and half ago.
By contrast, some of Gandhi's listeners slept and others attempted to leave before or during her speech, only to be stopped by policemen swinging long wooden truncheons.
Gandhi's Congress Party had provided free bus service for those attending her rally and government trucks and buses took government workers. Today, buses were rerouted and never got closer than a few miles from the site. But tens of thousands of people walked miles to listen.
Ram and Jayaprakash Narayan, two of India's most respected figures, argue that individual freedoms and the right of the people to choose the government would be major issues in mid-March elections.
Narayan, 74, the leader of the pre-emergency opposition, was too weak to walk and had to be carried up the steps of the speakers' platform. He undergoes dialysis every other day because of a kidney condition that became sharply worse when he was imprisoned in the early days of the emergency.
"I'm a sick man and I should have not come, but in times like this, people have to be willing to give up their lives," he told the crowd, which roared its support with shouts of "Long live Jayaprakash."
Mr. Ram, 63, acknowledged leader of India's ten of millions of untouchables, the lowest in the Hindu social scale, told the crowd that India was being run by "one and a half people," a clear reference to the prime minister and her 30-year-old son, Sanjay, who emerged as a political force during the emergency.
Sanjay Gandhi and his political influence have become one of the central issues of the election campaign.
Ram left no doubts last week that Sanjay Gandhi was one of the major reasons he left the Congress Party. Today, he said he would blame Gandhi for her sons' actions: "It would be unfair to blame him. She allowed even government officials to dance attendance upon him. It is her fault."
Ram said he had chosen his time to leave the government. "Obviously I could not resign at a time that would suit her," he said. "If I had resigned before Jan. 18 there would have been no elections. If I had given her even two hours notice I don't know what would have become of me."
Gandhi received another setback over the weekend when former President V. V. Giri endorsed an opposition demand for an end to the continuing suspension of civil liberties.
Giri, elected as constitutional head of state in 1969 with Mrs. Gandhi's strong support, said the lifting of the emergency would prove that she "stands equal for the constitutional and democratic traditions."