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Posts Tagged ‘26/11’

Another terrorist attack, and it’s time for the well-rehearsed Typical Indian Reaction Drama to play itself all over again. There will be outraged home ministers describing the incident using the most fancy adjectives (horrific, barbarous, dastardly, reprehensible, audacious, ‘insidious’ and the like), foreign ministers assuring the press that at least this time around talks with Pakistan will be halted and ‘stern action will be contemplated against the perpetrators’, conscientious news channel editors ‘cutting through rhetoric’ and delivering ‘verdict’ on every politician and agency caught sleeping on the job right on our TV sets 24 by 7, not forgetting at intervals to remind us that we, the empowered citizens, can make a difference by sending an SMS or two to a five-digit number, and finally, there will also be the occasional jester or clown to lighten the mood of the Reaction Drama with his ingenious comments and sound bites. The jesters of 26/11, if we remember, were Messrs R.R. Patil and V.S. Achuthanandan, and this time, it is Uddhav Thackeray who seems to have made up his mind to hog the limelight for the whole of 2010, Khans and IPLs notwithstanding. How else does one justify his latest gag about the Pune blasts having occurred because of the police being diverted by the government to guard Shah Rukh Khan’s house? Assuming for an instant that there is an iota of logic in this statement of his, the obvious question that arises is why Shah Rukh Khan had to be given extra protection in the first place, but we do not ask this of Mr Thackeray, for by now we have come to accept his role as a political jester and react to his utterances likewise.

And what will we, the audience-participant of this Drama, do? We will ‘follow’ the developments on the TV as informed citizens, send that occasional SMS or two, or in keeping with the latest fad, ‘tweet’ our opinions into cyberspace (wherever that is) which will largely revolve around wondering what our Agni missiles are doing in their silos when there is work to be done on the other side of the border. Last time around, candle-light vigils were in vogue, but this time perhaps the incident is not big enough to warrant one. After all, 9 deaths are not the same as 190, and our reaction must be commensurate with the death toll. Once the appropriate period of anger and restlessness at being unable to change things is over, we retire from the show and get back to the grind, while our conscientious news editor resumes his discussion of oil prices, fiscal deficit and Padma awards. A country of 1.1 billion moves on, minus 9.

We, as a nation, people and government alike, have learnt to tame our shock and grief and outrage in proportion to the death toll. This is something that I find profoundly disturbing, for it betrays our impatience with the problems of our country, and our ignorance of their nature. Every time something sensational like a bomb blast takes place, we hanker for more drama and more action, and when we see that anything along the lines of a war is not in the offing, we throw down the TV remote, curse the decision-makers, and move on to seek excitement elsewhere. What we look for in the TV sets and newspapers is sensation and not solution. It is but obvious to the meanest intelligence that most terrorist attacks happening in our country are coordinated and carefully planned, and the ultimate masterminds of each are the same individuals with the same convictions, loyalties and patronage. Be that as it may, it is not easy for India to put an end to all this at one go. To begin with, our internal security was never of the same level as those countries which have been able to curb terrorism effectively. We are only just beginning to tighten up the security system, and in a country like ours, it takes time. Like a five-day crash course in slimming which only looks good in ads but never really works out, India’s security and intelligence can not come to par with that of America’s overnight. We will have to pay for the intervening period with many more attacks and many more lives. Instead of knee-jerk reactions, we should learn to accept our limitations and get on with the hard task of setting things right and learning from mistakes.

One such knee-jerk reaction is Mr Chidambaram’s ruling out intelligence failure as a cause of the Pune attack. This is not expected of a minister of his caliber and I can not help but wonder if he is trying to imply that he knew the precise time and location of the attack beforehand, and that the intelligence did not fail, but rather something else did, which prevented him from accosting the plotters of the attack in spite of having identified them, or defusing the bomb in spite of being aware that it had been planted at the cafeteria! One does not doubt the minister’s intentions or integrity, but he should own up to the fact that despite his efforts, his intelligence agencies could not prevent the incident and that would be a perfectly acceptable statement. We on our part and particularly our ‘voices of conscience’ in the media must realize that as home minister of India, his is one of the most difficult jobs in the continent, and that he can not be expected to work miracles.

Over the grand entrance archway in the North Block of Lutyens’ Delhi which houses Mr Chidambaram’s home ministry and other important ministries, there is inscribed a famous aphorism attributed to the 19th century English writer C.C. Colton. The Raj-era architects of the building, in keeping with the aspirations of their race, built the portal so high that the writing above can hardly be noticed by the busy bureaucrats and ministers crossing underneath with too much to occupy their minds. The building was designed as a hall of power, as it is till date, but what the inscription reads is very humbling and worth pondering:

“Liberty will not descend to a people; a people must raise themselves to liberty; it is a blessing that must be earned before it can be enjoyed.”

It is imperative not only for the powerful few who pass beneath this inscription, but also for the countless others who bring them to power to understand its meaning and realize that a lot of work needs to be done, many sleepless nights to be endured, many fights to be fought, and sadly, many lives to be lost before we can earn our liberty from those who hold it hostage. Our greatness as a people will lie in accomplishing this task silently, with least tears shed and fewer fingers pointed.

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