Saturday, November 29, 2008

We survived, in spite of the politicians

I'm writing this post well past midnight, when the terrorist attack in Mumbai enters its third day - more than 48 hours later, more than 160 dead bodies and more than 250 injured. Where have we gone wrong? Well, in fact, that in itself is a wrong question, because the real question is where haven't we gone wrong? The attack actually shouldn't come as too much of a surprise to us because there are so many holes in the existing apparatus (and mind you, I say holes, and not just loopholes). The Taj Mahal hotel still burns, but the scars that this latest attack will leave on the families will be permanent. I say only families because the rest of the hoi polloi will forget about all of this by the end of next week and we're all going to go back and forget about the necessities lacking by our men in uniform.

The media:
So, again, what did we see going wrong? Let's start from the coverage. We saw shots of the electronic media try to brush past hotel security and police of the Taj and/or Oberoi to find out who was firing inside. While the action on it's own can be seen as commendable, the fact that the security personnel were pleading, I say again, pleading, with them not to go closer was unheeded. Since when did the cops have to plead with someone to allow them to do their duty? We often blame our security personnel as being insensitive because of their lack, or the level of education they have received, but when educated TV journalists so nonchalantly try to brush past these men and women of the security, like it's some right they possess because they come with a microphone and a camera, it is absolutely disgusting.

Staying with the media, I was struck by the hypocrisy of certain eminent figures from the electronic media, who talked about the politicising of terror. What exactly is this 'politicising of terror'? As far as I know, and from what I've learnt in school, the role of an opposition party in a democracy is to raise uncomfortable questions of the government when it is found wanting. I understand that at the very moment of a crisis may not be appropriate, because the government would have it's hands full with dealing the situation at hand, but otherwise what's wrong? Tomorrow if the state of garbage disposal is in a bad shape, and the opposition raises a stink about it, will it be called politicising sanitation?

Rajdeep Sardesai, the editor-in-chief of CNN-IBN, was understandably distraught with the events in his hometown of Mumbai., and more so with the death of ATS chief Hemant Karkare. However, every time a member of the public expressed anger on his show at the government's apathy towards a better plan to improve the security of the country, he termed it as understandable anger and empathised with them, but when politicians of the opposition, whose job it is to point flaws in the governments' actions, asked the same questions at the government, he termed it as politicising terror. Why the double-standards Mr. Sardesai? If you cannot maintain the levels of levelheadedness required to remain neutral (at least pretend to remain neutral) while doing your journalistic duties, then maybe you should have allowed your colleagues to take over, and you could have taken a break at one of the smaller caf├ęs and chilled out a little. The last thing the gullible public needed at such a time, especially in an era where most of them (the public) have outsourced their thinking to the media, were the ramblings of an obviously emotional journalist.

Let's not leave out their old adversaries, NDTV, that constantly kept giving close up face shots of the NSG commandos. Now this may not seem inappropriate to most, but ask any security expert worth his/her money, and they'd tell you that it's not desirable, especially when the face shots are taken along with the names of the commandos printed on their tunics on the right side of their chest.

Even as the NSG were engaged with the terrorists at Nariman house, where a Jewish Rabbi and his family were the targets (and sadly, they were killed even before the commandos had a chance to save them), the public outside were cluttered around like items in an untidy apartment. Just why did the public deem it necessary to be this close to the action, where a stray bullet, or shrapnel from exploding ordinances could quite easily have killed or seriously injured. What's more, the milling crowds proved to be a hindrance to the security forces, as even ambulances couldn't get through in time, and the police had to resort to a lathi-charge! Imagine that, a terrorist crisis, and the police had to resort to use the lathi against it's own people because they were a little too curious for their own good. Such things can happen only in India - and I say this with a lot of shame.

The politicos:
Blaming the political class is something we do all the time (justifiably on almost all occasions), and at this time, it would almost sound rhetorical, so I'll keep away from it (which in no way means they are innocent and don't deserve their fair-share of blame). The amount of anger and rage against the ruling political class is near boiling point, and in some cases could well have shot past the threshold limit. I am now continuing after the attacks have ended and more the 190 people are dead, and over 300 injured.

It took me a lot longer to continue after I started because at most of the times, tears had filled my eyes and I just couldn't concentrate on what to write - my mind was numb! My thoughts kept returning to the television images and I kept gravitating towards the TV set in the hope that this time when I switch it on, I would hear the news I'd been wanting to hear- all over. But it took a lot longer. I vividly remember a placard held by a citizen after the ordeal. It read:
"Mr. Politician, I'm alive in spite of you". I couldn't have said it better. Hats off to you my lad, may you live for as long as you wish.

What's more, I know everyone will ask for the resignation of the Home Minister, but I have a slightly different angle to this: the Home Minister Mr. Shivraj Patil didn't even deserve to be at that post in the first place. No, this isn't the usual rhetoric that we usually hear, the usual cynical remarks from cynics like me and others. In the assembly elections that took place in 2004, Shivraj Patil lost! That's right, Patil lost the election from his constituency of Latur, but was still made the home minister because of his seniority and closeness to Sonia Gandhi. He was later elected via the Rajya Sabha, the back-channel route often used by parties across the spectrum, if they know they've got to satisfy incompetent, slobbering, egotistical , diseased-looking bastards like Mr. Shivraj Patil who exist among their ranks. So no one in the ruling UPA can claim that it's the people who voted them in, because although their alliance may have received a majority by the people, that incompetant slob Shivraj Patil did not enjoy the peoples confidence, and hence had no place in the cabinet in the first place.

The heartburn:
My sadness was for the lives lost, my sadness was for the economic impact this would have on the city and the country indeed, but most of all, it was because the Taj Mahal hotel was targeted. This hotel is the symbol of Indian defiance against the British, an engineering structure that told the occupying British that we Indians are not just as good as you, but can be better.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the history of the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai, let me explain a thing or two to you.
>> Firstly, this isn't part of the Taj group of hotels, this is owned by the Tata group - yes, the same Tata group that will roll out the $2500 car called the Nano, the same Tata group that bought over Land Rover and Jaguar, headed by Mr Ratan Tata.
>> Secondly, and more importantly, the reason I said this was a symbol of defiance against the British, was because this hotel, which was built under the leadership of the late Mr. Jamshedji Tata, was built because of the racist behaviour faced by the late Mr. Tata. When he had visited the Apollo Hotel in Bombay (then run by the ruling British) to meet investors, he wasn't allowed inside because he wasn't white. So he had a bigger and grander hotel built, not just for Indians to visit, but also to cock a snook at the Poms to show them that we can build better structures than them.

And it was this very heritage structure of India that took a hit, and it was this very structures' devastation that burned many a heart, including mine. The only saving grace is that the plan to blow it up and bring it crashing like the world trade centers in New York failed, and so it can be looked like a silver lining in an otherwise very dark cloud.

The real heroes:
Our cops and the commandos. The defence forces are only remembered when we want them to sacrifice their lives to save ours, and at all other times we are too busy shopping or watching movies, never once giving a thought to the fact that we are able to indulge in these very activities because of these men in uniform. Hats off to the police, the Army commandos, the NSG, and the Naval Marine Commandos (Marcos), for their selfless actions.

The rogue elephant in the room:
It's about time we stop dilly-dallying about the reasons why such young youth would indulge in such dastardly acts of violence and destruction. Its quite obvious that the amount of brain-washing that would have gone into them can only be the results of one thing - what many sane and rational thinkers would refer to as the elephant in the room, and what I refer to as the rogue elephant in the room - religion. It's about time we, not just the government, but as a people who are secular in our thoughts, beliefs and actions, take initiatives and urge those involved in proselytising, fanaticism, religious indoctrination, monotheism, etc. to put an immediate end to it, or soon, vigilante justice would be meted out to those who are even remotely connected to this, and predictably, there would be innocents who suffer as well. It's time we woke up and took stock of the situation, and we'd better do it fast. That elephant seems to be running amok and no one seems to be noticing it.


Neetha said...

I was waiting to read your blog (yes, I do read it occasionally).. it was, like always lengthy but well written...

I do agree with you, especially regarding the media... it was the same with NDTV, it did not take much intelligence to know which party they were patronizing.

If one needs to hold somebody responsible for the carnage, then that some body is the “Citizen of India” that includes the politicians, the media, the teachers, the parents, the housewives ( like me ) , the techies (like you) and all the billion people who live in this sub continent .

We are all so busy politicizing religion that patriotism has taken a back seat...If only we were patriotic, then some one out there would not have taken bribe to smuggle arms into his country, some out there would not have given refuge to the terrorists, some one out there would have stopped even before it started…

Karthik Shetty said...

Well, thank you Neetha, I didn't know I had a follower :) But you're right, the issue of patriotism (lack of) is at a level higher than the causes for the failures that led to the attacks. I do, however, feel that unless we start moving from bottom up, it would be difficult to bring about a change. Starting from the top and tackling the issue of patriotism (or lack of it) would be easier if started from the bottom by first maintaining decorum and following a few rules, not just by the media, but also the hoi polloi like you and me who make up the numbers in our country.

Anonymous said...

Well written. What do you propose be done about Islamic extremism within India?

Karthik Shetty said...

There's quite a bit, and I don't know if I can successfully mention it all here, but in brief:
-No appeasement to any religious group - so whether ur hindu or muslim, if ur in the wrong, we fuck you - that should be the attitude.
-More people ought to be recruited into security agencies, and the govt should adopt a strategy like the US and Israel do - recruit from colleges and universities. Deputing smart people from the police to RAW and IB is not so good because that automatically depletes the police forces.
-Cut the red-tape! No more babus in charge of sensitive ministries like Home and Defense. It's better to have top retired personnel from the forces (easier said than done).
-Ministers need to be proactive, not reactive. We need ministers like home and defense minister to be making plans in advance and acquiring equipment before and keeping the forces updated with them, rather than procure them after an incident.

The above mentioned are just to name a few changes.

Anonymous said...

In your opinion:
1. If the Pakistani government waves evidence of ISI involvement away, should India work towards targeted strikes in Pakistan or a military offensive? Or should India focus only on internal policing/security?

2. Do you believe that the BJP would have done a better job at handling this situation?


Karthik Shetty said...

1. If the Pak govt waves aside the evidence of ISI involvement (assuming it's legitimate), then we need to share it with the Americans since they've lost citizens too. In fact, this is a boon of sorts for us coz the US govt pursues these things seriously unlike ours. So our best bet would then be to ask the Americans to do what they want to do to bring the killers of their citizens to justice. Military offense against Pak out of the question coz the Pak army isn't controlled by the govt; it's rogue and has been for a long time (since 1947 I'd say). Internal policing and security is a must, irrespective of the nature of threats. So again, best bet is to get the Americans to do the dirty work for us, because like I said, it's a blessing in disguise that there were (very unfortunately) Americans who were also killed, and the FBI has jurisdiction to track the killers and bring them to justice.
2. It's interesting you use the word 'handling', because I didn't see too much wrong in what the govt did AFTER the attack. Apart from the lack-luster speech the PM gave, everything was copybook. If you meant would the BJP have prevented such an attack, I'm very skeptical about that, although they would have pursued cases against Muslim terrorists with a lot more conviction than the Congress.
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