India's Government Falters in Handling of Ayodhya Crisis Premier Rao's Resignation Is Demanded

Article excerpt

INDIA appears rudderless in its worst crisis in decades, its government so far unable to stop violence between Hindus and Muslims.

More than 820 people have been killed in nationwide violence touched off by the destruction of a mosque last Sunday by militant Hindus. Government leaders assert that the violence will subside.

Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao, whose government is threatened, is perceived to have shown little leadership since Sunday. His ruling Congress Party adjourned Parliament for a week amid repeated opposition calls for Mr. Rao's resignation.

In a Thursday interview with a video magazine show, Eyewitness, Rao said: "I'm not pleading helplessness" and maintained that the Army was reimposing law and order. He portrayed the current crisis as just another problem that India will overcome. "There have been upsets here and there {in the past}," he said, "aberrations here and there, but the people have gotten over these aberrations in record time."

Arjun Singh, a leading contender for prime minister if Rao loses power, told reporters Wednesday that the violence "should subside." But Mr. Singh, who is minister of Human Resource Development in Rao's Cabinet, was unable to describe a single action the government was taking to restore peace.

India has endured many crises, but the current trouble touches on the most tremulous fault line of the nation: relations between its two major religious groups, Hindus and Muslims. Many Indians, including Singh, consider this India's biggest crisis since the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, in which 500,000 or more died in sectarian slaughters.

In addition, the crisis comes at a time of extreme political vulnerability. Much of India's stability since 1947 can be credited to the Congress Party, which, in various forms, has held power for 41 of 45 years of independence. …