LONDON--India's elections are like India's trains--lumbering along at no great speed, taking days before the destination is reached but, despite the discomfort along the way, reliable, sturdy and arriving at the station more or less on time.
The world's largest democracy will soon be in action for the second time in two years in a desperate search to find a stable government, an extraordinarily difficult task now that the founding party of India's independence, Congress, is a pale shadow of its original self and the strengths of local, regional, religious and caste parties, not to say the phenomenal rise of the Hindu nationalist, Bharatiya Janata Party, are now the deciding factors in Indian politics. Yet it is safe to predict it will be probably the fairest ever, without significant vote-buying.
Indian democracy is cleaner by the year. This is partly thanks to the former election commissioner T.N. Seshan who presided over the last election with an iron hand. He later lent himself to a spot in a tv commercial, promoting vegetarianism, in which his line was that though he only ate fruit and vegetables what he really liked was "eating politicians for breakfast".
Thus India's problem is not the honesty of the ballot but the coherence of the politicians. India now requires one of the most delicate political balancing acts as only a minority of the elected performers are likely to have a recognizable ideology that can be turned into conventional political discipline.