Saturday, May 16, 2009

Hats off to India!

With the Congress-led alliance now sure to win a majority in the Indian elections, India is close to wrapping up the largest display of democratic participation the world has ever seen. Approximately 400 million Indians are estimated to have cast their ballots in this crucial election for the country and the region.

In voting for the Congress-led coalition, the Indian electorate sent a firm signal that it does not wish to follow in America's footsteps following its own terrorist outrage in Mumbai. On the heels of the attacks of November 2008 that killed 185 Indian and foreign citizens, the B.J.P-led opposition appealed to national security in its campaign efforts. Yet it did not pay political dividends. Voters understood full-well the political implications of voting for the Hindu nationalists who, in a time when neighbouring Pakistan is in flames, would have played into the extremists' hands and further destabilized the region.

To the extent that personalities matter, it is reassuring that the prime minister Dr. Manmohan Singh will likely remain in his post. His reputation as a wise and intelligent politician did not develop from thin air. His leadership and judiciousness following the terrorist attacks was a testament to his reputation.

Under tremendous pressure to act, the Prime Minister listened to all voices, including the hawkish ones. Yet in the end, he decided to rule out the military option, which would have further destabilized Pakistan and potentially triggered a massive conflict between the two nuclear armed rivals. In an act of diplomatic pressure, he opted to deliver to Pakistan an intelligence dossier with evidence proving the nationality of the assailants (who were all Pakistani), and assertively called on Islamabad to hand over all involved Pakistani citizens to face Indian justice.

Opponents at the time denounced his decision to refrain from attacking Pakistan as proof of his indecisiveness. Yet his decision was a textbook example of how not to give terrorists the attention and political credibility they seek.

The world has much to learn from the Indian governments' response in the face of terrorism and from the Indian electorate's fine display of political consciousness. Hats off to India.

(photo from Getty Images)

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