India: for a new response to sectarian strife

As in any country where religious strife occurs, the key question for India will lie in the aftermath. Will the authorities and politicians maintain enough sense of responsibility not to turn the latest tragic rioting into another political football? This has been the customary response over the years, following each sadly recurring outbreak between Muslims and the Hindu majority with charges and countercharges about who was to blame for letting such things happen.

To begin to break the cycles of sectarian violence, wherever they continue, a more basic response is needed. It includes a demostration of the governmental fairness and firmness that can encourage a unifying loyalty to the nation fully compatible with loyalties to separate religions, communities, or regions.

Prime Minister Gandhi spoke of the importance of such national loyalty earlier this month when tribal revolts indicated the strains on Indian unity as the religious conflicts now are doing. It behooves her to follow the renewed one-party political dominance of her Congress Party with the policies and the quality of leadership to provide a more fundamental unifying influence.

Even the political ascendancy of her party seems due in considerable measure to the disarray of an opposition occupied with fighting among themselves. The new eruptions of divisiveness may have something to do with the question to succession to Mrs. Gandhi being left uncertain by the passing of her son and heir apparent, Sanjay Gandhi. Her hand on the reins will probably be increasingly tested.

At the moment, though two state governments have issued preventive-detention ordinances in reaction to the riots, Mrs. Ganghi shows no disposition to return to the undemocratic national "emergency" measures that brought her down before. She is believed not to want to antagonize people either inside or outside of India with steps that would surely do so. And she does not want to risk again the isolation that came with such mistakes as her bygone press censorship. They left her so out of touch that she thought she could win the election in which she was so roundly defeated before her remarkable comeback.

The prime minister does seem to be in touch now. With her knowledge and her power, she could take the lead in ensuring that the aftermath of the latest riots is more constructive than the political exploitation of those in the past.

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