Hindu power returns; India: Election strengthens economic growrh and moderism aunfeerd rubric of t tradition.


INDIAN PRIME MINISTER Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his Bharatiya Janata Party stand for Hindu identity and traditional, even reactionary, values. But the practical effect of their rule, is to modernize India, which may be the last thing they want culturally.

By sweeping away the socialism and bureaucratism of a half-century of mostly Congress Party rule, Mr. Vajpayee and the BJP ushered in the free market and Asia's latest economic miracle.

The next Vajpayee government will still be subject to regional party defection at any time on any issue, but looms stronger and stabler than Indian government has been lately.

And that promises no impediment to more heavy industry for export, more modern shopping centers for the domestic market, more start-up companies in software and high-tech applications for world business. Mr. Vajpayee is known as the moderate leader of extremists, an exponent of Hindu power over Islam who protects minority religions, the instigator of nuclear weapons tests and the conqueror of mountain insurgents in Kashmir.

Meanwhile, the Congress Party of the state-founding Nehru-Gandhi dynasty fared worse than it has in a half-century of independence. Sonia Gandhi, the Italian widow of Rajiv Gandhi and daughter-in-law of the late Indira Gandhi, led the party back from chaos and the threat of extinction. But she has no mandate.

If Sonia Gandhi retains the party helm, she will be leader of the opposition in parliament. That is no small feat for an immigrant to any country, especially one that re-affirmed its inward-looking, nationalistic, Hindu heritage in this election.

However difficult it may be for Marylanders to imagine, this election involved hand counting some 360 million paper ballots, and no one is crying foul or recount. Democracy can work.

It is time for the world community to recognize the 72-year-old Mr. Vajpayee for what he is. He is no quaint throwback or stopgap leader, but an exponent of India's power and a major world figure.

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