Life in India is an unending carnival. As the season of festivals comes to an end in October, another very different kind of gala will follow in November and in December. The Election Commission announced that assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi and Mizoram will be held between November 14 and December 4. It will be no exaggeration to suggest that these elections represent a kind of dress rehearsal for the Lok Sabha polls that are due in the first half of 2009. The announcement of the EC is significant for the omission that it makes. It set no date for the polls in Jammu and Kashmir. The EC said that it was still assessing the situation in that violence-prone state and was holding discussions with the leaders of the various political parties. It is unfortunate, of course, that where democracy is most required, it is most absent. It is true that violence and terror do not produce conditions that are conducive to the people exercising their democratic rights. Yet, there is no better antidote to terror than to instil confidence among the people through the democratic process. This is a matter of balance and timing, and can only be left to the sagacity of the EC.
This wisdom is evident from what the EC wrote to the relevant bureaucrats and authorities of the concerned states. It drew attention to the code of conduct, especially to two of its provisions. These forbid parties and candidates from appealing to caste or communal feelings and from using places of worship for election propaganda. These are well-known provisions but, unfortunately, they are all too often honoured only in the breach. Thus, the point bears reiteration. If anything, caste and communal tensions have heightened since the last hustings took place. If violence, of the kind that is seen in Jammu and Kashmir, is one evil that directly threatens democracy, caste and communal politics do the same, but by chipping away and eroding the democratic system. India has political parties that are caste-based or appeal to particular caste groups. There are also political parties that occasionally cross the line and appeal to religious sentiments. Orders from the EC cannot eradicate these evils. Society at large, especially the intelligentsia and the political class, has a role to play if democracy is to mature in India.