India's armed forces are being infiltrated by fascists. Moslems and untouchables are being systematically killed and jailed, their houses burned, their drinking water fouled. Thousands of Congress Party workers are being arrested for carrying out peaceful demonstrations against repression. The press is being censored through harassment of individual journalists. And the government seems incapable offunctioning.

Who says this? Indira Gandhi, the deposed prime minister under whose authoritarian rule countless examples of moral and criminal excesses allegedly were committeed in the name of the "emergency."

Conditions under her successor, Prime Minister Morarji Desai, have become so unbearable, Gandhi said in a wide-ranging interview today, that many people have told her they vastly preerred life during the emergency.

Following a period of several months that she spent in relative seclusion after her astonishing electoral defeat last March. Gandhi has launched herself on an active campaign to refurbish her image and to ascribe to the Desai government many of the excesses critics had charged to her.

While her accusations remain open to question, her campaign received an unexpected fillipp last week when the government arrested her on two charges of corruption and misuse of power. Within 18 hours, a local magistrate set her free and the case, while still pending, was dealt a severe blow. The government has been almost universally criticised for its clumsy handling of the affair.

Gandhi took her little victory to Desai's home state, Guuarat, and she drew large and enthusiastic crowds on a whistle-stop tour. Now, she is back home in her bungalow on tree-shaded Willingdon Crescent here, and she is still drawing crowds.

Most of them are poor: spindly shanked men in dirty white homespun cotton shirts and sarongs; women with cataracts and gnarled hands offering flowers. Every few minutes a new group of 20 or 30 collects beneath an awning on the lawn and Gandhi steps out of the house to greet them.

She has become a tourist attraction. A house photographer snaps her with each ragged group. They raise a disordered cry for her health and long life. Then she goes back inside the small sitting room to consult with colleagues beneath a slowly beating ceiling fan.

A lot of consultation is needed. For despite the virgor of her efforts, Gandhi seems to lack direction about as much as she says Desai's government does.

Was she interested in becoming president of the Congress Party? "There is very definitely a move to draft me as party president. But I don't want it. I've never been interested in party politics. It's a tedious business."

Would she run for Parliament? "No."

Was she interested in being prime minister again? "I certainly do not want it. I never have wanted it." Not only that, she went on, but during the campaign for the elections last March, "I was anxious to lose my job."

Can she be serious, this woman who ran India for 11 years, who inherited the mantle of leadership, after a short break, from her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, who himself ruled since independence in 1947? It is possible.

At 59, she looks healthier and younger than she has for years. The severe gray streak, so carefully waved through her unruly black hair by a French beautician, has strayed somewhat. But her face is smooth, her figure slim, her step spritely. She tends, as always, to be snappish, but smiles seem to come more frequently.

What, if not the head of the party or the government, does she seem herself doing? "We'll have to see how things go. Our politics are different here than in the West. I regard politics as working for certain things not necessarily in high office."

What she very obviously is working for right now is to discredit the Desai government as much as possible before it moves to arrest her again. Home Minister Charan Singh, whose personal hatred of Gandhi and her father goes back a quarter of a century, has already stated that she could be arrested "at any time."

Thus, her harsh assessment of the government: "India now is going through a period where there is no government. The poor are suffering desperately. We are on the downgrade in every sphere - science, industry, the lot."

Was she trying to force the government out of power? "No," she replied, "but it is imperative that the government should function. And I don't know if it is capable of functioning."

There are any number of people in this city who agreed with her, and many are people who voted against her last March. They deplore the petty internal squabbling and indecisiveness that has marked the Desai government from the start.

Where Gandhi differs from the majority of these critics is in her claim that a bungling exterior masks repression and criminality that exceed those allegedly committed by her administration. For example, she said, Harijans - a name for untouchables coined by the late Mahatma Gandhi and meaning "children of God" - were being killed while the government paid no heed.

Where? "Everywhere." By whom? "By landlords and police." Was this any different than it had been in her day, than it had always been in caste-conscious India? "There may have been isolated cases in the past. But not like today. Now it's organized."

Similarly, she said, Moslems - the largest and most volatile minority in predominantly Hindu India - were being killed in Uttar Pradesh, the nation's largest and most populous state. "Nothing is reported in the press. All you know is that curfews are being extended. We were ham-handed in our press policies. They're much more subtle. They call in people who write things they don't like."

Another accusation: the armed forces are being infiltrated by an extreme, Hindu-chauvinist, militatnt organization known as the National Self-Service League or, more popularly through its Hindi initials, the RSS.

Could she prove this? "There is no documentary proof. But they've said that this is their policy. They admire Hitler. They've tried to infiltrate the military. I don't know how successful they've been."

Wasn't her making this allegation against the military which has scrupulously stayed out of politics, akin to charges cited as the need to impose the emergency? "I'm not dragging the armed services into politics. They are. I must call attention to this."

The RSS was also using knives on Congress Party workers who turned out to rally in her support, she said. Isn't the youth branch of her own party a pretty rough bunch? "Rough bunch? Well, they're certainly not armed with knives."

"Thousands" of her demonstrating party supporters have been arrested in Uttar Pradesh alone, she said. How did this differ from her arrest of nearly 200,000 during the emergency? "Although we arrested people, except for the RSS, we didn't try to crush any party."

What about the Naxalties, a Maoist organization based in West Bengal? "They're different because they're terrorists." What about widespread charges now emerging that Naxalite prisoners were tortured by police during the emergency?

"I don't know who was torutured. I don't think there was widespread torture during the emergency. Whatever happened has gone on since time immemorial.

Now that she has had time to reflect on the period of autocratic rule and her subsequent defeat, what was her assessment of the emergency?

The emergency enabled us to bring the country to a level of development never before achieved. We had stability, cohesian, progress. We proved that the harsh remedy worked. We proved that you sometimes must take bitter medicine, but it works.

If the emergency was such a success, why was she defeated in the elections? Propaganda. The so-called excesses of enforced sterilization were blown out of proportion. It was a long-planned conspiracy. There were some excesses, but not many.

How important was the role of her younger son, Sanjay, in contributing to her defeat? "Sanjay didn't have much to do with my defeat. His principal role was that people were led to believe that I was using him to build a dynasty.Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.

And why did she call for elections, against the advice of her family and her most loyal party supporters? "I couldn't just hold off the elections indefinitely. I wouldn't dream of it.We were ready for it. I felt morally compelled.