The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi was a tragedy that will help India forge an identity under new leadership, a Kansas University professor said today.
"In the present uncertainty lies the possibility of a renewed beginning of a stable democracy in India," said T.P. Srinivasan, professor of math.
"We have so many regional parties that continue to gain power. The test of leadership will be who can blend these regional forces," he said.
Srinivasan said he is confident that a strong leader will rise from the ashes of crisis. However, it isn't obvious who that person will be, he said.
The 46-year-old Gandhi was killed Tuesday in a bomb explosion while at a campaign rally in southern India. His death came a day after the country began its 10th general election, the bloodiest in this nation's history. The election has been postponed until June.
Sucharita Ghosh, a KU graduate teaching assistant in economics from Bombay, India, said her reaction to the murder was one of "shock, horror."
"ESPECIALLY since it was expected that he would win the election," she said.
Gandhi was leader of the Congress Party, the country's largest and oldest political organization. He had been favored to be reinstated as prime minister.
Ghosh said India is a country in turmoil. It is being frayed by ethnic separatist insurgencies and corroded from within by religious and economic struggles, she said.
"The conflicts in India are more a manifestation of a lack of leadership and a slipping away of traditional religious tolerance," Srinivasan said.
"We need a leader who will take back our roots of full religious tolerance and economic integration of the agricultural and industrial sectors," he said.
SRINIVASAN said India could use a prime minister with the qualities of Mohandas Gandhi, a Hindu leader killed in 1948.
"With Mohandas Gandhi, the means were as important as the end. With Indira Gandhi (killed in 1984) and Rajiv Gandhi, the end overshadowed the means," he said.
Srinivasan also said Mohandas Gandhi favored the dissolution of political power, while Indira and Rajiv Gandhi relied on centralized authority.
"India is trying to find its own identity and find its own way of working out its problems," Srinivasan said.
Rose Greaves, professor of history, said turmoil following Gandhi's death could exacerbate the divisive situation in the vast country.
"It is just an impossible task to try to unify India and make it into one country that is tightly controlled," she said.
GREAVES SAID India's ethnic mix is too complex to be dominated by a central government.
Ghosh said the India states could use more authority, but the diverse ethnic makeup of the country required maintenance of a powerful central government.
"India can't do away with a strong central government. The minute you start establishing things on the basis of ethnic groups, it's all going to come apart," she said.