Expect nothing, live frugally on surprise.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Mumbai Attack: Our wake-up call

How does a democracy of billion-plus people respond when a few madmen tear the heart out of its financial capital and shatter its soul? The question has to be asked because it is only adversity of such staggering magnitude that shakes up slumbering, old civilizations to turn it into an opportunity. It is time, therefore, to close rank, unite, focus on the greatest threat of our generation, perpetrators of which have benefited from the fuzziness that partisan politics can bring to most issues in a democracy. Posterity will record this as India’s 9/11.

But are we now stirred enough to also respond to it with the equanimity with which the other democracy recovered, and has protected its people in the seven years that followed?
Nothing can guarantee that a small suicide squad will not infiltrate one of our cities and cause mayhem. But a policy of genuine, non-partisan zero-tolerance towards Terror of all kinds would have made the task of such conspirators much tougher. In this case, it seems to have been rather too easy. Sadly, our woolly-headed response to terror over the past five years was not caused so much by any fundamental differences in the way the two national parties look at it, nor because we have had so brilliant a Home Minister that he can tell live, realtime TV, which presumably the terrorists could be watching inside the hotels, that “200 NSG commandos” had left Delhi “at 1.15 (am)” and should be on the job in a few hours. It was caused by five years of surreal politics, rooted in psephology rather than ideology, that communalised our responses to terror in a manner that no other democracy allowed since 9/11. Both sides, the UPA and the NDA, were equally guilty, so while one railed endlessly against “jehadi” terror, the other searched for “root causes” of terrorism. Similarly, when a module of alleged radical Hindu bombers was busted, one side was smiling that vicious, non-stop “Gotcha” smile in TV studios, while the other was questioning the motives of the ATS, and demanding the sack of its brilliant and intrepid chief. At least in his death now Hemant Karkare would have achieved what he could not when alive, to have Congress and the BJP shed a tear for him. Together. That is the key word: together. Time had come a long time ago to depoliticise our response to terror just as other great democracies around the world have done. We can mourn that we lost all that time. But now, even if a tragedy like this cannot make both sides — in fact the entire political class — make amends, we have no right to call ourselves a great nation, democracy, civilization. And that is a right we must not deny ourselves. If the Mumbai attacks had not happened, we were looking quite good. In a global economic meltdown, we were looking at 7 per cent growth, we even touched the moon. We had just busted the gang that’s said to have bombed so many of our cities. The 60 % voting in Kashmir would have been the top story of this week, and for a nation, some of whose leading intellectuals were suggesting just ten weeks ago that we “should let the Kashmiris go”, there couldn’t be better news. We can’t let a bunch of murderous thugs rob it all away from us. We have to also ensure that others of their ilk are never to hit our people, or our foreign guests again. Ever.


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