After much fumbling and embarrassing setbacks the Indian government managed today to get a petition on its corruption case against former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi admitted to court for further hearings.
The hearings, for which no date has yet been announced, will deal with the government's claim that a local magistrate who ordered Gandhi released after arrest on Monday did not have jurisdiction.
The decision to admit the petition, announced by High Court Judge V. D. Misra, was a minor victory for the government of Prime Minister Morarji Desai, but did little to lesses the humiliation suffered when Gandhi was set free Tuesday morning.
Gandhi's lawyer, Frank Anthony, said he was pleased that the petition was admitted because "I'm going to give them the hammering of their lives." Gandhi will not appear at the hearings, he said.
Anthony said in an interview that the government was "trying to confuse the public" by raising the jurisdiction issue. "The fact is they don't have a title of evidence."
Anthony, a veteran attorney and a forme member of Parliament, is the acknowledged leader of the Anglo-Indian community that evolved during 200 years of British rule. He was dismissed from his appointed seat in Parliament by Desai following the electoral defeat of Gandhi in March. The two men have been bitter enemies for 25 years.
The white-haired lawyer characterized the government's arrest of Gandhi as "political racketeering" and stated. "You can't go around arresting people just like that, not in our country. Maybe in Russia, but not here."
Asked how differentiated between the arrest of Gandhi and the hundreds of thousands of arrests she ordered during her 21-month period of emergency rule, Anthony said: "Those arrests were under the Internal Security act. This is a corruption charge and we don't arrest for corruption in India."
Gandhi and Anthony have insisted that the government is staging a political vendetta against her. Gandhi is currently on a barnstorming tour of the western state of Gujarat,. Desai's home territory, where she said last night that she was not interested in being prime minister "as of now."
Anthony said that whatever bitterness the authoritarian rule had generated against Gandhi is "a thing of the past."
The lawyer said that the government arrested Gandhi on Monday because Desai was fearful of her tour of his home state. Discontent with the government has been growing as prices rise and labor strikes increase.
"Morarji wanted to stop her from going to Gujarat for one reason - charisma." Anthony said. "She's got it and he doesn't. he 's not going to hold this country togetheer."
Government sources denied that they were fearful of Gandhi's tour of Gujarat and said that it had nothing to do with the timing of the arrest. However, many residents of the capital have been pizzled by the administration's handling of the case.
Not only was Gandhi released after being held for 18 hours because the government had not established "reasonable grounds for detention," but its petition against her release was turned down the next day for technical reasons.
This has led a number of people here to wonder aloud whether the government's case is being "sabotaged" by Gandhi supporters in the civil service and among the police.
Other observers have noted, however, that the two charges against Ganhdi seem relatively minor and thus suggest the government's need to rush to court. She has been charged with misappropriation of 104 jeeps for campaigning purposes. The second charge is influencing grant of an oil exploration contract to a French firm that bid $12 million more than a U.S. firm. The contract ultimately was signed by Desai's government.