November 28, 2008. 1.52 pm
The last 40 hours or so, as one watches the images of the horrific happenings in Mumbai on television, one is shocked, dazed, speechless, confused, angry, sad, scared, hurt, helpless and vulnerable. As one struggles to put together some perspective to it all, what is even more disturbing is the alarming regularity with which various parts of India are becoming prey to terrorist attacks. In particular, this year alone, Jaipur, Bengaluru, Ahmedabad, Guwahati, Malegaon, Modasa and Delhi have all borne the brunt of various serial blasts resulting in a colossal amount of human life senselessly lost. And we’re not even talking about Kashmir where lives are lost every day. Or the blasts in Hyderabad and the attack on the Samjhauta Express in 2007; not forgetting the dastardly bombings of Mumbai’s local trains, the blasts in Varanasi and Malegaon in 2006; or even the serial blasts in Delhi in 2005.
Each time, the government and intelligence has been caught unawares and dare one say, napping. Clearly there is something wrong here for this to happen not once or twice but so many times. True, terrorism today has spared no one and a terrorist attack could catch anyone off guard but one feels that with each passing incident, no concrete lessons have been learnt. BB Nandy, a former deputy chief of India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), in an interview to the BBC following the Jaipur blasts, had said, “The intelligence agencies rarely chase up leads to get more specific intelligence and when something like Jaipur happens, they refer to their old report to save their jobs.” How true his words appear even as one saw commandos being dropped down by helicopter onto the roof of Nariman House to end the ‘siege on Mumbai.’
Terrorists today do their homework and are getting more and more sophisticated. Consequently, one has to move along with technical advancements to be able to face them and overcome them. Looking at the television footage of ATS chief Hemant Karkare trying on a rusty, old helmet and an inadequate bullet proof vest was a joke. Little wonder then that our law keepers were caught like sitting ducks in the line of fire. As one has seen, these latest attacks on Mumbai have gone beyond setting up of bombs in crowded public places. These are frontal assault techniques on innocent citizens being labelled as Fidayeen meaning death defying. This often entails confrontations for long hours between the terrorists and security forces, the latter handicapped by trapped civilian presence in these areas. Fidayeen attacks are common in Kashmir and are said to have been introduced there by organizations like the Lashkar-e-Toiba whose headquarters are in Pakistan. What’s horrific about this fidayeen assault on Mumbai is the huge scale it is being played out against and that too in areas like prominent luxury hotels and tourist spots attacking foreigners, otherwise thought secure.
After every such attack, several questions are raised, the blame game starts, and if an ‘Islamic’ hand is found behind the act (already there is enough talk of the Pakistani connection), the Muslim community in India finds itself under scrutiny as it prepares itself for a possible backlash from increasingly aggressive Hindu right-wingers. My father, looking at this widening religious chasm, used to remark sadly, ‘Mazhab Hi Sikhata Aapas Mein Bair Rakhna.’ A common refrain often heard is “All Muslims are not terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims.” So where do outfits like the LTTE, ULFA, the Baider-Meinoff group or the IRA fit in all this?!
The ‘strong condemnation’ of the attack by the ruling party be it the Prime Minister or Home Minister sounds hollow and unconvincing while the opposition leaders, finding an opportunity to hit out at the ruling party, are no better. The honourable Mr Advani has made a statement that this is an extension of the 1993 Bomb blasts in Mumbai. What he conveniently fails to recall, of course, is who was responsible, indirectly or otherwise, for those retaliatory blasts in the first place! And after labelling Hemant Karkare a villain just a few days ago for his role in investigating the Malegaon blasts, the BJP today conveniently hails him a hero and a martyr.
The political solution is not that easy for the rot has set in much too deep. We all talk about the Government being accountable for failing in its job. We talk about wanting security of life. We talk about the common man having had enough. We talk about ‘Jaago re’ and ensure we vote for the right people. But whom do you vote for when each political party and candidate is just as bad as the other? Who and where are these suitable candidates?
Clearly, the time has come for us to try and find answers as to what we can do practically and concretely to make a difference. Otherwise, nothing will change and we’ll sit glued in front of our television sets as we watch the next assault on our security; if we are not among the next lot of victims, that is.
NB: This piece was written when the terror attack on Mumbai entered its 40th hour. Thankfully, the last terrorist has also been dealt with, almost 60 hours after it all began.