Nov 28, 2008

My 2 cents on the Mumbai Attack

Part 1

Last night, I was watching a discussion on Times Now. Though I do not think much of the Times Group's capabilities when it comes to serious news-reporting, and think even less of their Chief Editor Arnab Goswami, some of the guests they pulled in yesterday were quite interesting. In this particular discussion, they had a former ISI chief, a British journo, and some bureaucrat from Israel.

Arnab initiated the debate with the usual noises - Pak link, support from the international community for India etc. etc. ... The Israeli chappie had an interesting take on it all.

About the media - 'These people's aim is to strike terror in the hearts of ordinary citizens, and to spread their hateful propaganda. You guys are playing right into their hands by giving them so much of airtime. They have no other ways of doing it. And this is all for free' 
Clearly, he felt the terrorits had been successful in achieving what they wanted to, however perverse the end and the means. While one can't fault the media for covering all the events and keeping us informed, this is surely something to think about - are we playing right into the enemy's hands?

About the 'international community support' - 'The responsibility lies first on India and India's government. You must display a sense of purpose, a strong will, and act in a way that serves as a deterrent to your enemies - whatever it takes. The international community can support your efforts, but as long as you are not doing much yourselves, it is unreasonable to expect any more from the international community.' 
Perfectly valid point. Our government always points fingers across the borders, and whines about lack of support from America and others. Are we expecting others to come in, and set our house in order, while we sit on our bums and bicker over caste, religion, language? Do we want to be the next Iraq? Or would we like to be more like Israel - a small nation surrounded by rich and hostile neighbors, yet tough enough to hold it's own? It's time to decide.

Part 2

We've heard a lot, in the past, about the 'spirit of Mumbai', and Indians' resilience. I, for one, always believed it was all a load of crap. 'Resilience', in this case, is nothing more than a euphemism for indifference, and in some cases, a feeling of helplessness. I mean - people going to work and carrying on with their lives as if nothing happened - a day after scores of people died in bomb blasts - was NOT a symbolic display of strong will, or steely resolve to remain undeterred - and NOT something to be proud of - not in the present Indian context, at least. It was a shameless statement that 'we don't really care'. At best, you could say people were 'resigned to their fate' and carried on with their lives because they felt there was nothing else to do - which, again, is shameful. So, let's not fool ourselves.

That's the grim reality. Bombs went off in some places. Some people died. Others didn't really care. It was just a case of some other people being in the wrong place at a certain hour. Yes, they offered helping hands, and the usual platitudes were said and heard. But the next day, nobody really cared enough to try changing anything.

That might just be the one good thing to come out of this whole episode. Our thick skins may finally have been penetrated. We might actually acknowledge the seriousness of the threats we all face, and might make a united, concerted effort to change some things for the better, even at a personal cost. It's about time. And it's sad that it took a terrible, 60-hour-long siege of Bombay 'town' for us to finally get the message.

Part 3

Why are we so indifferent to all this? Terror attacks, loss of lives, the Singur shutdown caused by one mindless politican, goonda-giri in UP, hit-and-run accidents, molestation of women outside 5-star hotels on New years' eve, scams, lynchings, epidemics, bad roads, teacher absenteeism, appaling quality, or total absence, of public goods and services... nothing seems to bother us unless we are personally affected. We have no sense of being a nation, no faith in the political establishment, little respect for the law, no sense of 'larger public interest'. With so much to achieve, and such eminent external threats, we continue fighting petty battles among ourselves, and continue voting for parties to form state/central governments (rather than a competent, local representative) that promise to cater to the interests of our own small groups vs. the rest of the population. Why?

There's a philosophy often used by business organizations during their strategic planning process. 'An organization is perfectly designed for the results it is achieving'. If you want better results, you need to identify and overhaul the parts of the system that are preventing them. Realities might sometimes be difficult to accept, but the rationale here is irrefutible.

So, drawing parallels, our society and establishment - are perfectly designed today - to keep us in the mess we are in. And here are, parhaps, some of the overhauls we need:
- As a people, we need to shift focus from petty disputes to greater issues that affect everyone. This means there is NO PLACE for vote-bank politics. NO PLACE for reservations. NO PLACE for communalism or linguism.
- We have to start demanding better laws and effective administration from our elected leaders. NOT parties. NOT just central/state governments. But the very chaps we vote in as our reps on the local municipal council, local bodies, state assemblies, as well as the parliament. Accountability MUST be established at the grass-root level, and built from the ground up. THIS is how things work in more developed countries, and it makes sense.
- We need to stop complaining about the quality of politicians. If they fail to deliver, some of us need to stand up and take on the responsibility ourselves. India is one of the greatest sources of 'talent' for organizations world-wide. Some CEOs of Fortune 100 companies, today, are Indian. Our domestic private sector companies boast of high quality leadership and managerial talent. Some of these 'talented leaders' need to take charge of governance and administration also. I know this will be difficult in the current party-based, government-focused election system. But, if the people vote for local reps on merit (as discussed in the previous point), quality leaders would be encouraged to come forth.

For a change, the terrorists targeted the upper classes this time. The class that, presumably, has the intelligence, education, information and resources - to change things if it really wants to. The people who know enough to form educated opinions, and disseminate them. People who are socially and financially secure enough to ask tough questions of the establishment, and take matters in their own hands if need be. I hope they respond to the call.

Part 4

No commentary on this episode can be complete, without a tribute to the brave men - the Fire brigade, the Police, the ATS, the Army, the NSG, the Navy - and even the staff of the hotels, especially the Taj Mahal - who selflessly flung themselves in harm's way - to save people like us, and give these terrorists the treatment they deserve. I was watching the funerals of Maj. Sandeep Unnikrishnan, Gajendra Singh and Hemant Karkare on TV earlier this morning, and could not bear to watch it beyond a point - I think it was a visual of Sandeep's mother crying next to his body, in a wheelchair herself. Having grown up in an Army environment, I relate to these situations, people and emotions more strongly and personally than most of you would.

Needless to say, we owe these people a lot. But a grand show of respect at funerals, and tributes through the media, are NOT enough. It is NOT enough to harp on about the lack of training, equipment and resources that limit the effectiveness of these few, courageous men. We must not stop screaming about these issues, till these men get all the support they need to do their jobs as well as they want to, and without having to compensate for lack of resources or support with their courage and their lives.

More importantly, we need to stop passing on all the responsibility for maintenance of law, order and harmony to these few men. Their selfless devotion can not, and should not, be the balancing force for our own recklessness and indifference. The feeling I'm trying to communicate, was well-described by someone through a message to CNN-IBN:

'Where is Raj Thackeray today? Someone please ask him to note - it is Commandos from all over the country - including a North Indian Gajendra singh, and a South Indian Maj. Sandeep from the Bihar Regiment - who have saved Mumbai and the Marathi Manoos today'

If we are to become the great nation we can be, we need to shut out people like Raj Thackeray, and learn a lesson from the Indian Army - which is Indian, and not divided among Hindus or Mulsims, North Indians or South Indians.

Jai Hind!


  1. Dude.. For a change.. I agree with all.I do hope, our thick skin is penetrated, I do hope people realise how raj thakarey is not the ans to their problems, how WE have to do something about the problem.