Pessimism about India is nothing new. Right now, there is no dearth of gloomy news from the subcontinent. Not only was former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi assassinated in a particularly violent election campaign last spring, but two separatist insurgencies continue to wrack the country. In the northern states of Kashmir and Punjab, ethnic rebellions threaten national cohesion. In Uttar Pradesh, a large, populous state also in the north, a controversy surrounds the Babri Masjid, a mosque that, it is said, stands on the ruins of an ancient Hindu temple. An ardent and growing number of Hindus refer to the area as Ram Janmabhoomi or the birthplace of Lord Rama, one of the principal figures in the Hindu pantheon.
This dispute is emblematic of deeper rifts between the Hindu and Muslim communities. Most pronounced in north India, these divisions are now threatening to spread elsewhere. In fact, ethnic tensions are no longer confined to particular regions as they once were. At a national level, the country is deeply divided over the Mandal Commission Report, a comprehensive “positive discrimination” (affirmative action) plan initially commissioned eleven years ago. In principle, this proposal aimed to improve the lot of the so-called “Other Backward Castes.” This produced substantial discontent following its recent resurrection. It would have reserved well over 50 percent of all government jobs for the lower strata of the Hindu caste hierarchy....
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