Has India learned nothing about democracy in its 44 years of independence?
There's room for wondering in view of the massive violence that claimed the life of former Prime Minister Rajiva Gandhi this week along with some 200 other people and turned India's weeklong parliamentary elections into an international scandal.Though the 46-year-old Rajiv Gandhi - the grandson and son of Indian prime ministers - was the most prominent victim of the worst spate of election violence since India won freedom from Great Britain, the most important victim is democracy itself.
Here is a country where vote fraud, beatings, stabbings, stonings, and shootings in connection with political campaigns are as regular as the elections themselves.
It is a country where three elections were canceled this week because of the deaths of candidates even before the bomb explosion that killed Gandhi, who took over as prime minister after his mother and predecessor Indira Gandhi was shot to death. He served until his Congress Party was defeated in 1989.
It is a country where election results in five other districts were invalidated this week because of election violence and fraud after rival parties tried to stuff ballot boxes. A country where the deployment of millions of police and paramilitary forces and the closure of 46 illicit gun factories before election day were not enough to head off the anticipated violence. A country where notorious gang leaders openly boast of the $1,500 fee they charge for rigging an election. A country where a 50-year-old radical was busy campaigning this month 14 years after he was sentenced to be hanged but was later pardoned for the murder of 30 people.
India, in short, is a country that likes to think of itself as the world's largest democracy because of its 514 million eligible voters but is actually a mobocracy because of its penchant for political violence.
Until India learns the integrity and self-control that are essential to true democratic government, each election day in this sad country with great potential seems bound to be a tragedy just waiting to happen.