Leading Article: India on the brink

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SINCE INDIA achieved independence 45 years ago, analysts in the West have argued about India's future. There are two traditions: pessimistic and optimistic. The first says that India cannot hold together as a society or as a country; that the institutions of the state are too weak and the pull of its different castes, religions and languages too strong; that its economy can do little more than sustain its ever-growing population at roughly the same level of prosperity; and that finally and chaotically the country will burst apart. The second tradition rejects this as neo-

imperialist doom-mongering. It says, in the words of J K Galbraith, that India is 'an anarchy that works'; that the democracy which often seems so ramshackle and corrupt gives India a rare strength and flexibility; and that the gifts and skills of its people, properly harnessed, could make it the most dynamic and enterprising nation in the world.

Friday's bomb outrages in Bombay make optimism difficult. They come after an autumn of communal bloodshed, Muslim against Hindu, which itself simply added a new dimension of slaughter to the deadly separatist struggles in Punjab and Kashmir. India is no stranger to the terrorist bomb but it has seen nothing like Bombay. The exact purpose in killing more than 300 innocent people is still unknown. Its likely consequence, however, is renewed Hindu-Muslim conflict of perhaps unprecedented intensity. India's Muslim minority is increasingly alienated, but Muslims have not so far (outside Kashmir) embraced separatist politics. If they do, then India's now slender thread of optimism will finally snap.