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The Press : India's Crackdown on Hindu Militants Gets Mixed Reaction

March 02, 1993

Last week's police crackdown in New Delhi, during which thousands of anti-government Hindu protesters were arrested and others were dispersed with tear gas, water cannons and bamboo canes, inspired a mix of reaction in the Indian press.

All were grateful that the aborted rally organized by the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India's largest opposition party, did not trigger a repeat of the Hindu-Muslim sectarian violence that killed at least 1,940 people following the destruction by Hindu militants of a disputed 16th-Century mosque at Ayodhya last December.

But the press was divided over whether the government went too far in banning last week's demonstration. A sampling of editorial opinion from New Delhi:

*

"In overreacting to the BJP's decision to hold a rally . . . in the capital, the (Prime Minister P. V.) Narasimha Rao government has undoubtedly played into the hands of its political foe. . . . Not only has the BJP, which had suffered a setback on account of the Ayodhya tragedy, gained almost a martyr's halo but it has also been gifted with fresh propaganda weapons for its political battles. . . .

"The main lesson which the government should learn from its overreaction to the rally is that it should fight the BJP politically and not by repressive administrative measures. . . . The main question which the Congress (party) should pose to the people is whether or not the nation should adopt the secular path. The majority in this country will certainly give the right answer provided the secular parties do not develop cold feet or overreact while facing the challenge from the sectarian forces."

-- The Hindustan Times

*

" . . . It can perhaps be argued that the security arrangements . . . were far more stringent than were strictly necessary and caused no little inconvenience to ordinary citizens. But since the sealing of borders, the checking of trains and the large-scale arrests gave adequate warning of the government's determination, the BJP's decision to accept the challenge and practically rush into a head-on collision with the might of the state was not a little foolhardy . . .

"The Center (federal government) . . . had no alternative but to act firmly in the interest of law and order, especially because the BJP's plans carried the threat of provoking a communal outbreak."

-- The Times of India

*

"There were no winners in this confrontation. But surely, there were losers aplenty. . . . Not only was a severe blow struck at Indian democracy by the ban and its stern implementation, the state had to suffer a heavy financial drain and the public prolonged harassment. . . . If the average Bombay citizen wondered why the same Center could not be half as active in dousing the communal fires in his metropolis, can he now be faulted?"

-- Indian Express

*

"The nation will have heaved a sigh of relief at the relative peace which prevailed in the capital on the day of the banned BJP rally, belying earlier fears of a widespread outbreak of communal violence. . . .

"While the BJP would no doubt seek to project the arrest and assault of its leaders and workers as a 'murder of democracy,' the party can hardly ignore the fact that such an outcry sounds a bit hollow after its association with the Ayodhya demolition and communal rioting across the country. . . . The BJP and its allies . . . have in the past few months repeatedly trampled on the foundations of the republic, showing scant respect for either the rule of law or democratic traditions."

-- The Pioneer

Conjuring Up a Nightmare

Like a venomous snake, Hindu-Muslim violence threatens to poison India, in one cartoonist's view. Another focuses on the dilemma of Indian Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao, being pulled apart by two vexing issues.

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