Monday, December 01, 2008

A Mighty State

I saw Michael Winterbottom's 'A Mighty Heart' on Saturday, just a few hours after the Mumbai Siege had ended. An apt movie to see after the incident, more so at it depicts the capture and killing of the Wall Street journalist Daniel Pearl quite authentically, and Angeline Jolie has captured the grit and agony of Mariane Pearl superbly. Maybe, it is also good for India's morale; it just showcases Pakistan on its way to be the failed state it has become.

The war in Mumbai (yes, unfortunately with the trained Fidayeen terrorists around, it is that only; that is why our ill-trained police or private security will never stand any chance) has ended, and I tried doing all my good concerned citizens bit. I went for a candle-lighting 40 kms from my place, wore black the next working day, observed a minutes silence when asked to, etc. etc. Now what?

The political class has responded. The Congress, fearing rout in the impending General Elections, finally sacked the Home Minister, Shivraj Patil. BJP's Advani, after a failed attempt to show solidarity, could not take time off from his campaigning for an all-party meet. And apparently a few more heads are expected to roll in Maharashtra and the Home Ministry.

I have always maintained that most of the terrorist related problems (Kashmir, North-East, Palestine) do not have military solutions. I agree the Punjab militancy was crushed in the 80s, but the tide possibly turned when the local population withdrew logistical and emotional support to the Khalistani militants. In fact, good economics usually is the best bet, when people are too bothered to make an honourable and successful living, rather than thinking of relatively more abstract concepts like political, religious or cultural rights.

The problem with the Al Qaeda and its war is that it has beaten my rudimentary theory hollow. The recruits are usually the well-educated (not some illiterate incapable of having their own minds), even second generation immigrants (in Britain during the 7/7 bombings) who should have had no exposure to the genuine prejudices faced by their parents. In fact, I am not even sure if I understand what Bin Laden wants, apart from proclaiming the USA, Israel and India as the public enemies number 1.

It is obvious we need to do something. The problem is all of us are angry, but do not really know how to take it out. We have blamed politicians, but we have to live with them in our democracy. Critically, there is no leader who actually inspires confidence. Mobilising troops on the International border (like we did during Operation Parakram after the Pariament attack in 2001) a second time round in a decade would look stupid, especially as we did not fire a single bullet last time round. Critically, I do not think the Pakistan Government actually controls anything anymore. All leaders, be it Musharraf or Benazir, faced assassination attempts, to different degrees of success.

Israel is considered the world's hardest state, which does not negotiate with terrorists at all. In fact, the very creation of Israel and subsequent military expansion is considered the ultimate in hard state tales. Obviously, the single-mindedness unity of a fractured polity (not too dissimilar to India) helps. The Munich Massacre (where the Mossad apparently hunted down all perpetrators) , the successful storming of the hijacked plane at Uganda (Operation Entebbe), and the supposed bombing and crippling of Iran's nuclear facilities further added to the aura. However, in the new century, a younger Israel is also realising that Palestine needs to have a different political solution. The withdrawals from Southern Lebanon, Gaza and West Bank, however flawed or incomplete, drove in the fact that the military, however efficient and hardline, cannot achieve results beyond a point.

India has supported the Palestine cause since the times of Nehru. In fact, it is one of the rare causes which had the support of the Congress and the Left. India never even established diplomatic relations with Israel. However, BJP, the party with a difference, always looked up to Israel. PV Narasimha Rao, often called the first BJP PM, finally opened embassies in 1992. Since then, much to the Left's discomfiture, India and Israel, unjust victims of Islamic terror, have grown closer.

However, for all its admiration and its 6-year rule at the Centre, the BJP (with Advani as Home Minsiter) did nothing remotely smart, or hardline. If India were Israel, we might have liberated PoK in 1948/71, or at least established a 5km. non-militarised buffer zone either side of the LoC. Critically, we would not have tested the nuclear bomb in 1998, a losing proposition. Without doubting the technology requirements of Dr. Kalam, it ensured we were faced with economic sanctions for half a decade, and lost our conventional military edge against Pakistan. Kargil was a failure, as we would have never lost so many brave soldiers, if we had just broken off the enemy supply chains. However, our mutual nuclear armaments ensured both India and Pakistan stayed put in their designated territories.

Most of my ilk also aspire India to be an Israel. However, as the Big Fight on yesterday's NDTV 24x7, we actually do not know how to go about it. Some want to destroy Pakistan, some want to ban politicians, some democracy.

I have just one take. I know we are a nation of billion plus, and hence possibly can afford to lose a lot more. You become a hard state only after you get soft with the inhabitansts inside. Our administrators - leaders or policemen - have a mentality to rule rather than serve. So a bit of collateral damage, or indifference to those who do not count, does not really make a difference.

We lost 150 lives during a religious stampede in Jodhpur a few months back. We lost 50 people during last year's Gujjar caste-led agitation. We also lost 180 people in the Mumbai terrorist attack. The key question to ask, as someone had put it so well to me, do we want a mighty India, or mighty Indians?

No comments: