Rajiv Gandhi, buoyed by cheering crowds who mobbed his motorcade, filed his nomination papers Wednesday in a quest to regain the prime minister's job he lost 17 months ago.

Well-wishers strung garlands of flowers around Gandhi's neck, repeatedly halting his progress from a small airstrip to the district magistrate's office in Sultanpur.The tumultuous turnout in the dusty town 310 miles southeast of New Delhi was in sharp contrast to the 1989 election campaign, when only a few hastily erected banners and a sparse line of spectators greeted him.

As the incumbent prime minister in 1989, Gandhi and his election aides started that campaign with aloof over-confidence.