Only a month after returning to Parliament, former Indian prime minster Indira Grandhi was stripped of her seat yesterday and sent to jail for contempt and breach of privilege.
For a few days, at least, Gandhi wil share the experience of many of those who voted for her penalty yesterday in India's lover house-a cell in Delhi's central jail.
During the 19 months when Gandhi ruled India under emergency powers, she imprisoned many of those who later emerged to give her a crushing political defeat in the election of March 1977.
Her actions during the emergency came back to haunt Gandhi in the findings of a parliamentary committee a week ago that she was guilty of contempt. Similarly, the memories of jail cells in those turbulent days led many hardiners in the ruling Janata Party to demand yesterday that Gandhi look out from behind bars for a while.
Dovers in the party argued that Grandhi could well emerge from jail a political martyr and be reelected to Parliament to to renew her strident attacks on the government of Prime Minister Morarji Desai. A key Gandhi supporter said yesterday that "she will come back like the thunder, like a flash of lightning."
The scene in the Parliament was chaotic, according to news agency accounts, as the intensity of the debate mounted toward a culmination of a year-long investigation by the Committee on Parliamentary Privileges.
The committee ruled last week that while she was prime minister, gandhi and two aides had ordered the harassment of four government officials who were pressing a parilmentary investigation into the affairs of a company run by her son, Sanjay. She was ruled in contempt for refusing to testify about the matter under oath.
The lower house then went into sessions to take up the case and voted 279 to 138 yesterday on a motion introduced by Desai to strip Grandhi of her seat and imprision her for the duration of the current session. Thirty-seven members abstained.
Since the parliamentary session is to end this week, she could be in jail for as few as three days.
Elections are scheduled soon to fill vacant seats in two constituencies considered safe for her party, and her party could easily nominate her for one of these, quickly returning her to Parliament.
"The punishment is lenient considering the enormity of the crime," Desai said in introducing his motion.
During the debate, Desai, 82, said Gandhi had always believed she was above the law and that it was just this sort of thinking that led to the excesses of emergency rule. The prime minister was among the thousands jailed by Gandhi between 1975 and 1977.
Gandhi, in turn, charged after the vote that the action was a "personal vendetta" against her "based . . . on past grievances of honorable [Janata] members."
She described the decision as "a death for Indian democracy" and then stood talking with supporters and journalists inside the Parliament while police waited outside the building. Finaly, House Speaker K.S. Hegde returned to the building with a warrant and the former prime minister, 61, was taken off to a freshly white-washed cell at Delhi's main jail.
As plainclothes police led her out of the Parliament, supporters chanted "Long live Indira Gandhi!"
Several hundred persons were arrested outside Parliament earlier in the day as they defied a ban on demonstrations. Monday night, police used tear gas to break up crowds of Gandhi supporters who were besieging Desai's house and there were similar reports of political unrest from several other parts of the country.
The Parliament building and the houses of Desai and serveral key Cabinet ministers were under heavy police guard yesterday.
Gandhi returned to Parilament a month ago after winning a by-election from a district in southern India, far from her old home base in the north-a region that suffered heavily in the forced sterilization drives and other harsh measures thast ultimately led to grandhi's fall from power.
As a member of the opposition, she had led slashing attacks on the Desai government.
Gandhi spent eight months in jail during the Indian independence struggle from Britian in the late 1940s and was arrested in October 1977 but ordered freed by a judge after 16 hours on the basis of lack of sufficient evidence.