Tuesday, December 02, 2008

India's Apocalypse

Everything about the Bombay apocalypse has been shown incessantly, spoken untiringly and written endlessly. So there is precious little I can add – even as an ordinary citizen or resident of this fantastic city. In any case, the experience was too gruesome for words.

Faulty DNA

As a nation, we are far too stoical – coming to think of it, even a tragedy of such enormity failed to rattle us completely. It already seems like business as usual (not just in Mumbai – which has this ‘indomitable and indefatigable’ tag of its own making attached; but, also in rest of the country). Perhaps, repeated tragedies over the ages - both man-made and natural - have engineered our DNAs to make us immune to collective pain.

Sure, we don’t have to rush to hospitals for panic attacks, run to shrinks, reach out for Prozac and Anxiolactics as the Americans did after 9/11. Neither did one expect to see a dignified display of national solidarity by wearing the tri-colour as they did in the US (where – Jay Leno joked - 300 million pin-up lapel badges of the US Flag had to be flown in from Taiwan).


Made-up faces and endless chatter

It’s also not surprising, that a series of chain SMSs failed to make people wear black (or white, as the case may be if you were in the South) or bring out people for candle light vigils or silent marches in the large numbers, as New York was in September 2001. But one didn’t evidence any shock and horror on the face of the common man on the street or the well-powdered visages of the usual suspects on TV panel discussions – Alyque Padamsee, Anil Dharkar, Shobhaa De, Simi Garewal and now also Rahul Bose.


We are also very talkative as would be evident from the endless chatter on all 24 hours news channels. We don’t mourn and grieve in silence – nor do we allow others to. We have a compulsive need for verbal regurgitation on every issue with little action to match.

So do I believe anything will change? Cynical as I may sound, I don’t think so. How many times before have we heard the term “intelligence failure”? Or the assertion that Intelligence Agencies had warned about the possibility of the attacks much in advance - but the police or state authorities did not act upon it. It was said after the Bombay train blasts of July 05, the Kabul Embassy bombing (which was true by the way – apart from RAW, the Afghan and American Military Intelligence had passed on information about an impending attack with almost precise details – including the make of the car etc), the recent Delhi blasts and practically every other terror attack in the past.


Wake-up call for the Decendants of Kumbhakarna

Is there any reason to believe that now things will change for good - the nation and political parties will stand together as one – leaving aside considerations of their vote banks – to pledge that we won’t let this happen again? I think it’s utter bull-shit that, last week's national ordeal would prove to be a ‘wake-up call’ (if we didn’t wake up even after the repeated terror incidents of all these years - then, as a race we must be descendants of Kumbhakarna). The theory that, this time terror has struck the under-belly of the ‘rich and powerful’ who will make the establishment act – is based on an erroneous premise.

The rot has set in far too deep. The sacking of a Shivaraj Patil (who had no business to be the Home Minister in the first place – I wouldn’t therefore blame his incompetence rather that of those who gave him that all important portfolio to begin with – as a tool for their own self-preservation – by providing them with political intelligence and leaving the real job of managing internal security to the PMO and the NSA) or sacrificing a Vilas Rao Deshmukh and R R Patil at the alter of electoral expediency wouldn’t make any real difference either.

Nor will the creation of a Central Agency for National Security a la the US Department of Homeland Security or introduction of more draconian laws to curb terror – serve any purpose unless it is backed by political will and bi-partisan and unanimous support across the political spectrum.

What is required is an over-haul of the entire system – which is beyond the capacity or comprehension of our present day leaders who are too busy with their internecine fights to bother about fundamental structural reforms. A discerning friend questioned rather incisively - in an age of specialization in every field how can we have service aspirant from every academic discipline appear for the entrance exam not knowing whether he / she would be joining the IAS, IFS, IRS, IPS, Railways or Indian Posts? At another basic level – another friend in the intelligence establishment admitted that, age old tried and tested systems like the ‘beat constable’ as the primary source of gathering ground-level intelligence has been systematically dismantled and the humungous investments in hard-wares such as metal detectors, CCTVs, Radio interceptors gather dust. Even today – I was allowed to walk into the airport without having to pass through the metal detector.

We will continue to hear only pious platitudes (such as “the guilty will be punished” and “such attacks will unite us rather than divide us”) or indictments from the opposition trying to make cheap political capital out of a national tragedy - until the next one hits us, perhaps with even greater ferocity.

The Last Men Standing

The armed forces remain the last surviving institution in this country. God forbid if even they are politicized, it would mean the end of India as we knew it. That would be even more dangerous than the much-prophesied disintegration of Pakistan into a rogue-state, which probably it already is. A dismembered and beheaded behemoth like India can be many times worse than a hydra-headed monster.

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