Saturday, November 29, 2008


For three nights and two days now, a city- and a nation- have been held hostage: the precise identity and motive of the perpetrators remains uncertain; their methodology, however, is (regrettably) no longer in doubt: for the umpteenth time, hundreds of unarmed civilians- business travelers, restaurant goers, innocent bystanders, hotel guests & staff- have fallen victim to a meticulously-planned & carefully-coordinated cross-border terrorist attack in the heart of India’s financial capital, Mumbai.

Most significantly, it has exposed the weak underbelly- the absolute vulnerability- of our nation’s security apparatus.

A Different Class of Attacks
The Attack on Mumbai is being televised nonstop. As a blogger, I shall attempt here to put what we are seeing in perspective. 

First: the Victims of the Attacks. This isn’t for the first time that the world's Maximum City has come under fire: at least two bomb blasts- one at the Stock Exchange and another on Mumbai’s local trains- have resulted in an equal, if not more, number of deaths. What makes this particular set of attacks different- apart of course from its inherent Drama (to which I shall come to later)- are its Victims, or more precisely, the class of its Victims. Those killed earlier were, to put it blatantly, commoners in an extraordinary situation: the sort of people who live in faraway suburbs and commute in second-class local trains; not exactly the sort who would put up in USD 250 a night suite, or spend an average monthly wage on fine dining at Tiffin, a trendy new restaurant at The Oberoi that was witness to a veritable bloodbath on the night of the attacks.

In this case, the victims are not-quite-common people caught up in what is alarmingly becoming an only too common situation. A lot of the people who were taken hostage & killed during the past forty-eight hours belonged to the so-called Class of Untouchables: those who we- and by we, I mean our Collective Imagination- thought were above, among other things, being attacked by terrorists; the glass-housed Glitterati, so to speak. Now: the glass is broken & we realize- much to our discomfort- that even these hallowed creatures aren’t safe & truth be told, this terrifies us more than any of the previous attacks.

Secondly: the Media’s Role in taking the high-voltage Drama- rapid rounds of crossfire between policemen and terrorists ensconced in sushi-bars, masked commandos descending on rooftops from helicopters, guests waving for help from behind glass windows of their twenty-first floor suites, grenade launchers & AK-47s, bodies of brave warriors wrapped in tricolors, relieved evacuees- into every Indian household with a television set, has, for better & worse, made every Indian- both in India & abroad- a direct participant in the unfolding tragedy. Suddenly, every other news, including the death of a former prime minister, is no longer news. Suddenly, we’re all- you & I- Victims under siege, whether we’re in Mumbai or not. Our feeling of helplessness is- has become- universal: no one is- can be- safe. On the positive side, this creates in us- a largely divided nation- a sense of ‘Unity in Fear’: suddenly, each one of us is saying “Ich Bin Ein Mumbaikar.”

Thirdly: on the flip side, this pervasive sense of Paranoia creates in all of us, an overwhelming need to blame someone, anyone. And the easiest scapegoat: Politicians, of course. It is no secret that the Union Home Minister- and by implication, the Government of India- already suffers from something of a credibility crisis: he was widely ridiculed for reportedly having changed his dress thrice within an hour’s span of Delhi being bombed some months ago; his defense, that this ‘serial-dressing’ wasn’t exactly a vice, did little to assuage a slightly misplaced comparison with a certain Nero, who allegedly played the flute while Rome burned. Apparently, this metaphor has been extended to incorporate all politicians as a species. “Keep Out”, “Get Lost”: these are the overwhelming messages to them. It is they who’ve in the public imagination failed to protect us as a nation. Even worse, we feel they would only be too eager to use this Tragedy for political capital. A case in point is the Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi’s sudden- and thoroughly unproductive- appearance before The Oberoi this afternoon.

In my opinion, this last aspect merits further discussion.

They Shoot Politicians, Don’t They
For the terrorists- the wannabe fidayeen- the prospect of the Attacks might well have looked like a brochure for a perfect vacation: a Cruise across the quiet blue waters of the Arabian Sea followed by two days & nights of Massacre at a plush Mumbai hotel. Breakfast included & Jannat guaranteed. Bad joke aside, it is precisely this- the ease with which they did it all- that disturbs me most. It is almost as if we- to be more precise, the Awesome Might of the Indian state- put up absolutely no resistance at all. We might just as well have extended them an Invitation.

Less than forty hours into the Attacks, the GOI admitted that it wasn’t equipped to guard its coastline: forty terrorists, armed to the hilt with AK-47s, RDX, hand-grenades & satellite phones, had snuck undetected aboard stolen fishing boats into India’s financial capital without the Marine Police, the Coast Guard or the Customs getting wind of things. Yet: this is merely symptomatic of a massive & deep-rooted Intelligence failure. The different agencies involved in the intelligence business- not just those in India but across the world- simply failed to connect the dots in real-time before it was too late: a stolen boat in Gujarat; six missing fishermen, one of who was later found dead; hi-tech jihadi recruitment & training centers brazenly operating out of Faridkot; calls made to the (erstwhile) L-e-T network in Karachi from satellite phones; sightings of suspicious-looking dinghies by fishermen off the coast of Mumbai.

Intelligence, after all, is more an Art- and less a Science- of stopping things before they happen. By its very nature, therefore, Intelligence cannot be foolproof. We, as a nation, must be prepared to face further possibilities of such failures.

What happened in Mumbai- what is happening in Mumbai even now- has the appearance of an effective but also, a painfully improvised, response to a particular challenge: for the first time in Independent India’s history, the nation’s security forces involving the NSG, the Mumbai Police, Maharashtra’s ATS (Anti-terrorist Squad), the Army, Navy and the Airforce put up a unified response in the face of a sustained, highly coordinated attack carried out from at least three well-supplied ‘control rooms’ in the heart of Mumbai’s commercial-administrative district lasting no less than forty-eight hours (and still not showing signs of ending).

There are important lessons to be learnt from this. More than anything else, the manner in which the situation in Mumbai is being ‘contained’ gives us reason for Hope: we aren’t as ill-prepared as we had feared; indeed, our security forces have shown remarkable fortitude in the face of terrifying calamities.

The politicians, if simply because they’ve let them (the forces) do their job without becoming too much of a nuisance, deserve a second chance to get their act in order & not, mind you, for milking this Tragedy for political mileage.

Read More (आगे और पढ़ें)......

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Chhattisgarh 2008 (3): Murder of Democracy by State Home Minister

A most disturbing incident has occurred in Ramanujganj-7 (ST) constituency, which has shaken the very foundations of democracy in Chhattisgarh: Shri Ram Vichar Netam, state home minister & BJP candidate from that constituency, is even now, at the time of writing of this post (1830 hrs), personally present inside polling booths number 22 & 23 (Pachawal), where he has been actively rigging the EVMs in his favor for the past two hours. The Congress candidate, Shri Brihaspat Singh (telephone number: 9407618630, 9406221282), who is also present on the spot, was physically beaten up by the hon’ble home minister & his armed security officers, and thrown out of the booth. He is present at Pachawal now, and can furnish an eye witness account of what is happening there.

All this has been communicated to the Collector & RO, Ambikapur, and the SP, Balrampur, at least one hour ago, but no action has been taken. Shri Badrinarayan Meena, the SP, is a known supporter of the hon’ble home minister, and was personally posted by the latter in his home district some months ago for exactly such an occasion.

On the contrary, Shri Alok Shukla, the chief electoral officer of the state, has denied this incident altogether in a televised press conference at the exact same time when the hon’ble minister is personally rigging the EVMs. All this shows the complicity of the state administration in aiding the ruling party to subvert democracy in Chhattisgarh.

I hope that justice will prevail, and the voices of the villagers of Pachawal will not be allowed to be stifled by the very person entrusted by our Constitution to protect them: at every cost, repolls must take place in the aforementioned polling booths.


Post Script:
Brihaspati Singh lost by 4000 votes. He trailed by more than 2200 from Pachawal. Despite numerous complaints, no repoll was ordered.

Ram Vichar Netam has been divested of the Home portfolio although he continues to be a minister in the current government.
Read More (आगे और पढ़ें)......

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Amit Aishwarya Jogi
Anugrah, Civil Lines
Raipur- 492001
Chhattisgarh, INDIA
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