Friday, November 28, 2008

Nightmare near Dalal Street

My blood is boiling. And I am sure I am not the only one amongst the billion dollar plus in this part of the planet.

Terrorism, as the Joker depicted so brilliantly a few months ago, is highly symbolic in nature. With no disrespect meant to the victims of the multiple terrorist attacks in India, we possibly lose more people to road accidents in Delhi. Yet it does not stop me from getting my car out to drive, or walk my way to the nearest mall in crazy traffic. Somehow, bomb blasts give us much greater jitters than drunken driving.

Terrorism, quite literally, is supposed to spread terror. 9/11 was such a watershed in global history because it showed a shadowy movement, the Al Qaeda, hitting at the very symbol of the global economic system, the World Trade Center at New York. More importantly, it gave a buffoon like George Bush Jr. his highest ratings, and maybe even a totally undeserving second term as the US President.

I first heard of the siege at Bombay in Guwahati (where apparently such search-and-siege operations are a regular phenomena). The tragedy is exactly 48 hours old as I write. At the risk of further insensitivity, I think humanity, or India, has seen worse. A few months back, a river changed it course by 120 kms, wrecking a populace so poor and backward that it is difficult to decide if it was better for them to get relieved of their miserable existence. The area happens to be in the neighbourhood of my geographical origin, and I was moved to donate. But alas, my day-to-day work-related travails caught up with me quickly to forget all about it.

We also have something called the Red Corridor, which apparently affects almost 40% of the Indian population, and where the writ of the Indian state has given way to the followers of Mao. Lest we forget, three years back in the same month of November, another neighbouring town of mine, Jehenabad, faced a breathtaking attack by almost 1000 Maoists who rescued more than 375 prison inmates.

Human beings, for all their ability to reason (intelligently), are possibly the only species on this planet who harm each other for something that cannot be strictly classified as essential survival. Some species of snakes are supposed to devour their eggs as soon as they hatch. I personally despise snakes, considering them to the lowliest and vilest creature. Yet, snakes exhibit this trait out of natural survival instincts.

The worst manifestation of this human trait, whatever the motive, are easily in the terrorist attacks against uninvolved bystanders. The Munich Massacre was poignant and dramatic enough for Spielberg to make a movie (giving Daniel Craig an action role before the more popular James Bond). Only recently, Vladimir Putin turned hardline after the terrible Beslan tragedy,

What is so different as to what has happened in Bombay, to make it a watershed in both my and my country's history? On a goddam honest note, the tragedy is right at my doorsteps. Kosi, Jehanabad, Beslan can be skipped, but I have been lucky enough to stay at both the Taj and the Trident. It could have been destiny, and I could have run into some madcap(s) inspired by Mr. Bin Laden and Prof. Saeed (the Amir of Lashkar-e-Toiba).

On a more philosophical note, the tragedy is straight out of a fantastic action movie, say a Die Hard. Alas, there was no John McClane this time round. The boys decided to target the India that is the flavour of Davos. Each gunshot was fatal, a slap across the face of every Indian. From a pure Corporate Communication point of view, the systematic targeting of American & British passport holders, and Israeli families, makes India appear like a farce.

It seems we will soon realise the complete ramifications of the ordeal. The two hotels (repeating the cliche, symbols of modern India and Bombay), the railway station, the hospital, the city is littered with dead bodies, belonging to NSG commandoes, finest police officers, brave hotel staff, foreigners, innocent bystanders, somebodies, nobodies, ALL. There have been bravehearts who did their bit admirably, helping people escape. There have been lucky ones, whom some mysterious force protected.

Critically, it once again showed that how our Armed forces are possibly our proudest institution. Lt. Col. Purohit not withstanding, India's success since Independence has been to have such a fine and apolitical Army. From a personal point of view, I cannot think of an institution that straddles the spectrum of the globalised contemporary world (Armymen are the ultimate in etiquette) with the real Bharat (the Army remains the only disaster management mechanism for many parts of India, whether it be a kid falling in a well, or a tsunami).

Where do we go from here? India aspires to be a hard state, but in reality is a bully. We are superb at holding on to territory (like Kashmir), or in controlling the poor. Yet, the real challenges elude us. It is one thing to look up to Israel, it is another thing to behave like them. After all, we are talking of a Jew race that resurrected an entire language Hebrew (something similar if we decide to suddenly start speaking in Sanskrit), has compulsorily military training for all its citizens, lives with daily terrorist attacks, and hunts down all its enemies (Munich again).

Pakistan (and originally the US in the 80s) have created a Frankenstein, which is out of control now. India needs to live with this reality, and re-strucuture its entire National security. accordingly. In fact, the Army cannot be expected to do the Police's job, like it has been doing in J&K and the North-East for so many years. If nothing else, senior Army commanders start stagnating at the top levels (Kargil after all was a tactical field victory but a strategic blunder). Maybe they can be better used if we have integrated security forces, allowing for senior level transfers.

I am not sure if individual leaders have the answer. LK Advani was the Home Minister when a plane was hijacked. Manmohan Singh gave the most insipid speech possible to the Bombay siege. Narendra Modi plays too much of politics, and happens to be a mass-murderer.

What we really need is an India 'not divided by narrow domestic walls'. Maybe, there is an Omen. The tragedy coincided with the passing away of VP Singh, under whose leadership the tone for today's divisive politics was set a couple of decades back. Amen!


Abhilasha said...

This is a beautiful post.
Hopefully, the Bomaby seige was the nadir and we shall not plumb such depths again.
And yes, I can never be thanful enough that the attacks did not happen when you were a guest at any of these hotels.

svety said...

I was waiting for ur perspective. Have read a lot the last few days on the same and nothing compares to the depth of this post. I wish u would write more. Your posts are usually the starting point of discovery for me..I'll put my own angst up..soon