Expect nothing, live frugally on surprise.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The aftermath is even more terrifying

The sheer magnitude and scale of the terror strikes in Mumbai have triggered outrage from ordinary people on a scale not witnessed before. For the first time the people have strongly condemned the games politicians play and asserted that they will no longer be fooled by their antics.
Even as we, the citizens of India, resolve never to forget the bloody and petrifying 59-hour siege on Mumbai and take a pledge to compel those responsible for our security — not only politicians but also our intelligence agencies and others who have been lax in guarding our borders, such as the Coast Guard, and probably even the Indian Navy — what is going to be much more important is our response to the post-Mumbai events. In the anger, all of it justified, and the jingoism, not all justified because clearly diverse agendas are being pushed here, that follows the Mumbai carnage, one wrong step can end up doing much more harm than good.The unprecedented siege on Mumbai has exposed the several chinks in our armour in guarding our borders. Anguished and angry voices, including those of Indian Muslims, particularly youngsters, asked in disbelief: “So, anybody can take a ship/boat from Karachi, armed to the teeth, and come into Mumbai and kill our own people on our own soil? Is India such a soft target for terrorists?”Unfortunately, the answer is a sad ‘Yes’. One horrific truth that emerged from this carnage was that, after 9/11 and other murderous attacks in Europe — London and Madrid, in particular — as those countries have secured their borders and scaled up security, backed by impeccable intelligence, Islamic terrorists are seeking out and killing Americans, British and Israelis in other countries. The Bali bombings were an example and attacks have also taken place in other South-East Asian countries.

Here, too, high on their massacre list were Israelis, Americans and British, sending out a clear message that the planners and executors believe India to be a “soft target” from where terror attacks can be launched to eliminate those they hate the most. But the sheer magnitude and scale of the terror strikes in Mumbai, at several locations at the same time, the meticulous planning, and the terrorists’ ability to keep the massacre going for an unbelievable 59 hours, during which the entire country watched helplessly, have triggered outrage from ordinary people on a scale not witnessed before. For the first time this outrage has eloquently condemned the games politicians play and categorically stated that Indians will no longer be fooled by their antics.

Discredited politicians A manifestation of this rage was seen in demands for the resignation of not only the Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil, which came quite reluctantly and too late on Sunday evening, but also that of the Maharashtra Chief Minister, Vilasrao Deshmukh and his deputy, R. R. Patil. The latter resigned on Monday and his chief has volunteered to step down.The rage was seen in not only the angry Mumbaikars, but the entire country baying for the MNS chief Raj Thackeray’s blood, and demanding to know where was the man who had poured such vitriol against North Indians and non-Maharashtrians, and what he had to say about the NSG commandos who came from all over the country — mainly the North and South — and risked their lives to annihilate the terrorists and save whatever lives and property was possible. It was manifested in angry voices demanding what the BJP and other Hindutva outfits had to say about the supreme sacrifice of the Maharashtra ATS chief, Hemant Karkare, whom they had attacked till just a day earlier, and how dare they now hail him as a hero and martyr.The atmosphere was highly charged at Karkare’s funeral; there was palpable antagonism against Mr Deshmukh and his deputy and, in a dignified move, the ATS chief’s wife turned down the compensation offered by Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi.The outpouring of wrath against politicians was so strident that it clearly put the BJP on the back-foot and constrained it in its shill-pitched criticism of the UPA government and its failures. BJP leader Rajiv Pratap Rudy sulked thus on one TV channel: “Thanks to the UPA government’s failure to prevent such attacks, the whole political community is getting discredited.”But it cannot be denied that the fire of the people’s anger was being fanned by various TV channels in the constant race for TRP ratings. As anchor after anchor thrust mikes at Mumbaikars who had assembled to light candles for the dead, encouraging them to attack politicians, at some point it became a little too much to take.

Granted, the intelligence machinery has failed and our politicians and systems are not the best in the world. But, then, that’s the best we have and culled from the democratic systems that we are so proud of. After dealing for decades with politicians who exhibit sheer indifference and sloth when it comes to demanding accountability and results, how do we expect them and their creaky systems to change overnight, just because the country is seeking answers? However much we may laud our security forces and be grateful to them, do we want military rule in this country? For that’s what Pakistan has got, after weakening its democratic systems.

‘Attack Pakistan’
Coming to Pakistan, the jingoism one witnesses is scary, to say the least. Available evidence points the finger of suspicion to the Lashkar-e-Taiba; we are told the terrorists were all Pakistanis, their arms and ammunition had instructions in Urdu, etc. In reaction, one heard this sentiment umpteen times: “Let’s attack Pakistan, go out and destroy their terrorist camps. Look at the US; has there been a single terrorist attack after 9/11? If the Americans can do it, so can we.”And these calls have not come from bystanders lighting candles before the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai. They are made by responsible people from various professions. Not for a moment is there any thought about the repercussions of war against Pakistan. Others have talked about cutting off all diplomatic relations with Pakistan; “let’s not romanticise this idea of making peace with Pakistan”, says somebody. Another person talks about cutting all links — bus, train and air.Let us think for a moment that all this is done, in the hope that this will make the present ineffective and discredited Pakistani leadership take remedial action. But how can the man who lost his wife to terrorists help us combat terrorism?But, yes, all this jingoism and “tough talk”, which might pressure our political bosses to act on it with an eye on the fast-approaching general elections, will infuse a huge dose of popularity in the weak and unpopular Pakistan government. It will be forced to match our shrill pitch and take on a defiant stance — at the moment, President Asif Zardari is talking about co-operation — in order to get support at home. The lunatic elements in Pakistan are well beyond the control of any Pakistan government; things have come to such a pass that one is not too sure if they are any more in control of the Pakistan army or the ISI either, having found more zealous comrades in the Taliban and ruthless bosses in the al Qaeda. Do we, once again, want the two armies marching up to the borders and a million soldiers exchanging glare for glare? The choice is ours.

Muslims in crisis Meanwhile, after the decent interval not to indulge in such talk elapses, and the public mood against all politicians softens, fingers of suspicion will once again be pointed at Indian Muslims, tarring the entire community for what some maniacs from across the border have done, most probably with local support. International media is already talking about it. In an article titled ‘India’s Muslims in crisis’, Time magazine talks about the “striking disparities” between “Muslims, who make up 13.4 per cent of the population, and India’s Hindus, who hover at around 80 per cent…. generally speaking, Muslim Indians have shorter life-spans, worse health, lower literacy levels and lower-paying jobs. Add to that toxic brew the lingering resentment over 2002’s anti-Muslim riots in the state of Gujarat.” But, acknowledges the article: “It is a crisis 150 years in the making.”Now cut to an article in the Khaleej Times by a Muslim living in Dubai, dated November 29. “Every time innocents are targeted in the name of Islam around the world, one can’t face one’s non-Muslim friends and colleagues. I feel like burying myself in the ground. Growing up in a religious family, one never thought one would see the day when being a Muslim could be a source of shame. A distraught friend (presumably a Hindu) who has devoted her life to speaking and fighting on behalf of Arabs and Muslims wrote in yesterday saying, “I’ve had it with the Arabs and Muslims and Islamic militancy. Forgive me, but I am throwing in the towel.”

“I couldn’t write back to her but understood her pain. She grew up in Mumbai and is understandably upset. My friend went on to say: ‘The Muslims and Islam have a problem and only they can solve it. If they do not, the whole world will turn against them’.”Well, it is already happening. The last few times, no communal riots have broken out. But is that a guarantee of suspicion and dislike of Muslims not happening, prejudices not deepening and the employment chances of Muslims not worsening? I don’t think so. So, what is going to be the response of the Indian Muslim leadership, if it indeed has one, is the question.


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