Tension eases for now, but India faces long fight over Hindu fundamentalism Relieved capital turns to cricket

February 28, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

NEW DELHI, India -- A day after about 100,000 police and paramilitary troops turned the heart of India's capital into an armed camp and fought thousands of anti-government Hindu activists with tear gas and bamboo batons, the city turned Friday to a more important matter: cricket.

Televisions and radios in homes, sari shops, doctors' offices and street stalls were carefully tuned to the daylong cricket match in Bangalore that pitted India's finest against England's all-stars.

That the country could turn its attention so quickly to bowlers and batsmen was perhaps the most telling sign that the threat to the embattled government of Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao by the Hindu fundamentalist Bharatiya Janata Party had passed, at least for the moment.

"The battle of Delhi is over, but the war certainly isn't over," said Bhabani Sen Gupta, an independent analyst at the Center for Policy Research. "This confrontation between democratic secularism and Hindu nationalism will continue for the rest of the decade."

The analyst said public confidence in the Congress Party, which has ruled India for all but three years since independence in 1947, had been sharply eroded.

The government had shown no leadership, he said, on how to fight the apparent appeal of right-wing Hindu nationalists who have stirred sectarian passions and vowed to abandon India's constitutional guarantee of secularism.

"What is at stake is the parliamentary political process," he warned. "A new generation of politicians has come up that has no confidence in the Westminster [British] parliamentary model, and [they] don't even understand the model. We're paying a terrible price for that."

Police, using steel barricades, coils of barbed wire and oil drum roadblocks, kept tens of thousands of Hindu protesters from rallying near the Parliament on Thursday.

New protests called to observe what the Bharatiya Janata Party called an "anti-repression day" in the capital appeared to fizzle in the day's cold drizzle.

Only about 300 people showed up early Friday for a sit-down protest outside a park devoted to the Gandhi family.

Government leaders clearly were pleased with the outcome. By their count, only 30,000 or so protesters had shown up Thursday, not the 1 million to 2 million the opposition party had promised. And although police had been armed with automatic weapons, none was fired. Some 88 people were injured, but there were no deaths.

"Great restraint was used," said government spokesman S. Narendra. "Minimum force was used."

Mr. Narendra said most of the 60,000 people detained before the rally had been released.

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