Sunday, November 30, 2008

Reflecting on the Mumbai attacks

When a disaster (natural or man made) takes place there is a period of uncertainty that follows – a period of confusion where people are at a loss in terms of how they should respond to the disaster at an individual level and in a collective sense; at a personal level and as a political society. The period provides for what is described as a clean slate during which new things can be written and the ideological masters who wait for the window of opportunity to arrive, seek to write hastily on the clean slate. This is the theme of the book that I bought recently when I was in Madrid, titled ‘The Shock Doctrine’ by Naomi Klein. (I have a habit of buying some book whenever I am abroad - my idea of collecting souvenirs)


I have moved to a new place and one of the negatives of the new place is that my new landlady unlike my old one doesn’t have cable TV. I terribly miss my NDTV. I don’t mind NDTV though it’s no different from your typical News Channel (where sometimes or rather most of the time entertainment/cricket news is bigger than the politics). But it is definitely better than our own News First. Be that as it may, I was at my former landlady’s place yesterday and was watching NDTV’s ‘Big Fight” (a Saturday political talk show kind of) which was last night an extended show for two hours dedicated to discussing the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks. The show was titled: “Fight against terror: How can we win?” Vikram who moderates the show is a fairly decent anchor. Yesterday when I got there around 7.30 half way into the show I saw Vikram almost being hysterical. He was asking why enough money is not being spent on providing the proper ammunition and armory for the police and India’s National Security Guard and he was demanding for a proper research and statistics on how much the Government spends on defence. Shekar Gupta, the editor in chief of Indian Express, whom I have followed and found to be a respectable journalist was sane enough to calm him down and say that there is enough and more money being spent and that the real question was where the money was going. There was a strategic studies expert from the centre for policy research who was making the point that urban guerilla warfare was on its rise and that the Indian police force wasn’t trained and equipped enough to handle it. There was an academic attached to a hindutva think tank saying that there is a clean slate that has been created by the disaster for the future and that we should start writing on it. Vikram suggested what he would write first: call for a non partisan support for more training, equipment for the police and the army. At this stage BJP’s Arun Shourie (one of BJP’s very pro-RSS idealogues) was introduced and Vikarm asked whether he would agree with him. Shourie asked Vikram how dare he asks him that question when the media was the one that was running down the police. He was referring to NDTV and other media coverage and Vikram’s own big fight programme on the fake police encounters in Delhi and elsewhere recently. Vikram almost agreed with him and didn’t have much of a response. The fear had gripped Vikram so much that he probably started suspecting the need for scrutiny over law enforcement agencies and Shourie had the sway. NDTV continued to play scenes from the funerals of the police officers who had died fighting the terrorists at Mumbai Taj hotel. At 8 in the news room Vikram had a candle lighted in front of him and his correspondents from different parts on India were seen joining him. The height of emotion that NDTV sought to display quite dramatically was a bit too much for me, I left. This morning reading the Sunday Times I was disgusted to read in the “Obituary/Appreciation” page of the paper a reader from Banadaragama suggesting that we should build a temple for the soldiers who have died in what he called ‘defending our 2500 year old civilization’. The patriotism reflected at my faculty gates at university with a banner carrying the Sri Lankan flag crossed with a Buddhist flag along with photographs of Army soldiers and the Bodhi pooja held at the University all make me wonder what kind of a society we are. Why not a Bodhi pooja for all people who have died in the war so far – the innocent civilians – would that be unpatriotic? And what kind of a war is this? Between two civilizations? What was the Buddhist flag doing on the banner? The president is being iconised by the state media to an extent where it won’t be surprising if there are calls to build a temple for him.


I am quite confident that because of the enormity and diversity of the politics of that country, in the long run saner minds will prevail in India. But for a Muslim in India it’s going to be tougher to be not doubted as being ‘anti-National’. The fall out of the Mumbai attacks which follow the one in Bangalore and Delhi ones will show the Congress Government as week in the face of terror. BJP brought in the draconic Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) as a response primarily to the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament. The Congress government repealed the act. (I think now there is a law called the National Security Act) The attacks have largely targeted the urban middle class in the past (the Mumbai attacks possibly stand out) which is increasingly now moving towards the BJP. Ashish Nandy India’s topmost political scientist shows us how all religious extremism and riots have occurred and center themselves in the urban areas and not in the rural areas. People like the BJP Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi (the one who is responsible for the 2002 riots against Muslims in the state) who are seen to be good for business and tough with terror will benefit. But because of the fact that BJP will never be able to form a Government of its own they will never be able to pursue their agenda at a level they would like to and hence my opening statement in this paragraph.


Of course our Government is quite happy with the Mumbai attacks. Its simple message to India: “You fight your war on terror and we will fight ours. Please take care of your business and don’t interfere in ours. Hope the attacks will shut Tamil Nadu’s voice. Deepest sympathies. Good Luck”.

As Bush prepares to leave office and to get back to shooting ducks at his Texas Ranch his writing on the clean slate after 9/11, of the war on terror, that brands all ‘sorts’ of terrorist projects together and fight them all will continue to devastate us world over for a long period of time, as preparations are underway for the Obama presidency.

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