21 JUNE 1975, Page 3

Democracy and Mrs Gandhi

There are two points to be made about the difficulties,in which the Prime Minister of India has found herself. First, although it is virtually universally accepted that Mrs Gandhi is an exceptionally ruthless and domineering leader, the offences of which she has been found guilty in the court of first instance are trivial ones, and could scarcely, in common justice, be estimated weighty enough to banish her from her high office. Second — and this is all the more remarkable, considering the trivial nature of the offences — the most powerful political figure in India, a woman who is virtually a democratic dictator, has been brought to a most embarrassing pass by a private prosecution, and may even lose her power because of her offences. There is virtually no recently independent former British Imperial country in which this could happen; and none that can make remotely the same pretension to true, if complicated and nonetheless humane, democratic procedures as India. In particular, though the African Commonwealth countries caterwaul the loudest to whoever will listen to them, Britain has not left behind a single democracy in Africa. It is doubtless of little comfort to Mrs Gandhi to praise that very sophistication and civilisation which has placed her in difficulty, but India merits our respect all the same.