India Struggles to Regroup

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INDIA'S elections have resumed, with a clouded outlook as to results and with the memory of Rajiv Gandhi's assassination overshadowing the country's politics. Indian democracy has rarely been so at bay - with its long-dominant political force, the Congress Party, disoriented and the Nehru/Gandhi family not represented among those likely to form a new government. The question inevitably arises: Is India's democratic system, the world's largest and perhaps most unwieldy experiment in representative government, finally coming unglued? The short answer is "no." The country has survived past crises without junking its parliamentary processes, and its institutions are likely to weather this one, too.

But the prevalence of electoral violence deepens concerns about growing tensions within India. Gandhi's has not been the only murder; candidates in a number of provincial races have been killed as well. Violence during political rallies has resulted in injuries and deaths. Religious frictions are being heightened by the growing power of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Secessionist movements in Kashmir and among the Sikhs are engines of conflict.

Growing violence could play into the hands of reactionary political elements, bolstering their "law and order" appeals. BJP leader Lal Kishan Advani took his campaign to the southern states this week, venturing out of the northern heartland of Hindu nationalism. He calls for Indians to back his party as the only group disciplined enough to quell current threats to order.

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But would the Hindu nationalists also quell free expression of views opposed to their religion-centered perspectives? Mr. Advani says his party would not oppress Muslims or other minorities, but rather emphasize the country's dominant Hindu roots.

The job of knitting together a polyglot land like India has always demanded a vision of nationhood that transcends the interests of any one group. That vision must be restored and updated.

The country's clear needs - to revitalize its economy and broaden opportunities for Indians of all backgrounds and beliefs - should provide the basis for a politics of unity.

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