Saturday, November 29, 2008

The 26th of November

Byline by M J Akbar: The 26th of November

The power of fear is immense and intense. It is axiomatic that evil of the magnitude perpetrated in Mumbai, through a collusion between Pakistan-based hate-filled terrorist organisations like Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Indian fifth columnists will have a direct impact on the political mood of the nation. It is inevitable that the mood will reflect on polling in an election season. But we need to understand the nuances of this impact carefully. The hyperinflation of knee-jerk analysis can be toxic to the truth.

Fear, bred by insecurity, can have two political consequences, one of which can be very beneficial to any government. George Bush remained President of the United States for eight years, quite against the odds, because he managed to exploit the American voter's fear of Al Qaeda terrorists. However, he could not have won re-election on rhetoric alone. He had been able to keep a basic commitment. He might have angered the rest of the world, and irritated half of his own country, but he had kept America safe after 9/11.

Fear and insecurity will always instigate anger. It is a question of whom the anger is directed against. Americans concentrated their anger on Al Qaeda because they did not feel betrayed by their own government. They forgave George Bush a hundred vices because he displayed a single virtue.

Indian anger is bursting over in two directions. There is a passionate revulsion against terrorists of course. This was evident in Mumbai when citizens came out of their homes to cheer the heroic commandos who had delivered them from evil. But their second anger was also evident in their chants and slogans. Their impromptu slogans in praise of the motherland were punctuated with slogans demanding an end to Congress rule. The Indian voter is livid at the Congress-led governments in Maharashtra and Delhi because it feels betrayed by those it has elected to power. The voter no longer has much by way of expectation from any government. But if a government cannot deliver, ever, on security, then it is time to pull it down. If the Mumbai outrage had been a first incident, the voter would have given the government a second chance and more. But this government in Delhi has exhausted all its chances.

All fear/anger is not the same. The Indian Muslim voter is both afraid and angry as well, but his sentiments are trapped in confusion. He is angry with the terrorist for using Islam and his problems as an excuse for shocking violence and thereby making him vulnerable. He is afraid of his vulnerability to government retribution: a shamefaced Andhra Pradesh government is handing out Rs 35,000 to each innocent it picked up and tortured. And he is afraid of retribution at the popular level, motivated by leaders of radical Hindu outfits. His vote, therefore, could reflect this confusion. A part of the Muslim vote, possibly a large part, could rush back to the comfort zone of the Congress not because the Congress has done anyone any good but because it is considered less worse than the BJP. A strong section of the Muslim vote will go to third parties, like Mayawati's BSP. And there may be other Muslim voters who will stay at home or vote for Muslim candidates who have no chance of winning. Wasting a vote is a means of showing no confidence in any of the parties on the slate.

The credibility of politicians has taken a hammering in the past week. Television anchors found, some to their shock and others to their happy surprise, that viewers did not want to see the faces of politicians during the long, continuous coverage of the siege at Taj, Oberoi-Trident and Nariman House. Politicians in government got the message quickly enough, and stayed home after a few statements that proved to be either premature, wrong or utterly stupid. Opposition politicians do not have to do anything except keep quiet. Those who could not keep quiet felt the whiplash of public reaction. But in any situation of this sort, it is the government that suffers the loss, since the voter cannot blame the Opposition for negligent, ineffectual and clueless governance. In these days of circulating SMS mobilisation, one crude SMS reflected the shifting mood. It described Manmohan Singh as "Noman" Singh.

If the Congress loses the popular vote in the Assembly elections, then it has no one to blame but itself. Dr Manmohan Singh regularly advertises his close friendship with Bush. All the pictures display a fawning admiring look on Dr Singh's face whenever he is in the company of Bush. Couldn't he have learnt from Bush how to win an election by manipulating fear?

The Delhi Congress is clearly worried that it will lose because of Mumbai. On the morning of the vote, it took out expensive full-page ads trying to suggest that attacks such as these had happened during the BJP's time in power as well, as indeed they had. What the advertisement naturally could not mention was the frequency; or the absence of accountability either in the apprehension of the guilty, or among those at the highest levels of power who should take responsibility. In any case, the voter punished the BJP with five years of exile because of its sins of omission and commission. It won't punish the BJP twice. Only those in office can commit a crime that deserves punishment.

A second SMS I received points out a baffling coincidence. I have not had time to check all the dates of disasters in recent memory, but find no reason to consider them untrue. "The Gujarat earthquake occurred on 26 January, the tsunami on 26 December, Godhra on 26 February, the Gujarat floods on 26 June, the Mumbai train havoc on 26 July and the terrorists struck last week in Mumbai on 26 November."

I suppose that rules out any future election on the 26th of any month.


Anonymous said...

What we need is a strong moderate force. Unfortunately, moderates are rarely strong. They are ambivalent, fuzzy thinkers - because they value justice, they are slow to pass judgement. They are often indecisive.
Which is why, as a psychiatrist, I think we see one of 2 kinds of leaders

a) an impassioned ideologue who has all the emotion, but very little discernment

b) The apathetic moderate, whose moderate views owe more to apathy, cynicism, than ideology and principle.

No doubt, this tragic event will incite extremist elements on either side.
But I believe it will also arouse real anger in the majority of Indians who are moderate and reasonable and just want to live in a fair and just country.

There's a very real chance that this event will shake people out of apathy and cynicism, and inspire a movement to taking back our government.

Being moderate, passionate, and strong - that is the key to our progress.

babulkorma said...

Dailt times (pakistan) has reproduced this article with errors which appreas to be deliberate.

Last para and last sentence ideaof ("my") India) my is missing.
"I am an Indian and a Muslim and proud to be both. Like any Indian, today I am angry, frustrated, and depressed. I am angry at the manic dogs of war that invaded Mumbai. I am frustrated by the impotence of my government in Mumbai and Delhi, tone-deaf to the anguish of my fellow citizens. And I am depressed at the damage being done to the idea of India. —DT-PS
Any commets
Amir khan

common said...

Forgiveness is far superior
1) If India becomes a M***** majority country it will not remain a democratic country
2) If Indian M***** men were born in any other M***** country (permanent citizens) they might not adhere to monogamy
3) While in minority status M***** want m****** to be constructed but while in majority, M***** do not permit construction of temples or any other worship place.
4) While in minority status M***** want freedom and secularism but while in majority, M***** ruthlessly crush others.
5) Some M***** talk about with low respect for the society and its people. They behave as though they can migrate to a list of countries which are eagerly awaiting to welcome them.

This is not a trick or design to please or offend anyone.

No society can sustain and survive PEACEFULLY without FREEDOM and justice given to its citizens. It is the bedrock. Though democracy is worst form of governance but it is better than other forms of governance.

A person who saves a living being is far superior than the one who is indifferent . The person who forgives those who sin against him is highly respected and prospers more than the one entrenched in perpetual enmity.

Each one of us should respect and earn the good will of others. Hatred, treachery, perpetual enmity, puritanical supremacy of all forms, bogus slander, evil intentions & designs, disrespecting women and idle luxury life brings doom to people for sure.

Common Person.

Vijaya Dar said...

Mr Akbar, I was present at the Park Sheraton Hotel in Chennai when you spoke to the audience comprising of Women of Vision. I am fully in agreement with the views you expressed, and would like to share the following article I wrote in response to an sms I received after the recent Mumbai attacks.

“We want Reaction. India needs Leaders NOT buffoons”

This morning I received the following sms from a friend:

“I dnt want 2 light a candle 2 bury my remembrance 4 those who hv died. My heart’s full of anger, resentment, pain n revenge. I see no reasn 2 celebrte. I see no reasn 2 hoist my national flag outside Taj hotel.

10 terrorists had d power 2 make d entire nation go crazy for 60hrs.

V must fight back. If d govrnmnt cnt save us, let d army rule this country. The subtle speeches of Manmohan Singh & Pratibha Patil fail 2 extinguish my anger.
For d 1st time in my life I dnt feel proud 2 b an Indian, a country which is unsafe, volatile n corrupt.

We want Reaction. India needs Leaders NOT buffoons.

Its time 2 Wakeup. For Gods sake, don’t delete this msg. Pls, forward this msg to yr entire contact list in yr mobile. Pls..lets do it in d hope of getting a better life for our children!! Pls. frwd.”

The message was so long that when I did as advised; I found that it actually consisted of six sms limits. I did not ponder about it and dutifully forwarded it to all my contacts, minus the ones I knew would also have received it from the same friend. After having sent the message I read it one more time, and it was then that the inanity and absurdity of the whole message struck me. To be fair, I am sure my friend would not be the originator of this sms - like me he too would have got it from a friend - and like me he too would have forwarded it to the contact list in his mobile.

The sms brings home the painful fact that we as a nation are perhaps the most casual and thoughtless in our response to critical situations. The terror attack on Mumbai was the latest in a sequence of violent and brutal acts of aggression on the people of this soil, dating back to millennia before Christ and long before the birth of the Prophet of Islam. The response, as always, has been the same – confused, abbreviated, and insufficient.

We Indians have perfected the art of self-deception. We continue to project to the world an image of the most peace-loving nation on earth, and we have perhaps the largest number of monuments symbolizing peace. We are adept at coining slogans and singing paeans in honour of those who lay down their lives in one conflict after another. Our politicians and diplomats are forever declaiming that India is the prateek of shanti, condescendingly looking down upon the other nations and lecturing them on how to conduct themselves. We send our armed forces to patrol the strife-torn parts of the globe, especially in Africa, and the Middle East, and proudly claim to advance the cause of peace and democracy in these “unfortunate” trouble-spots. But we are the only nation who shamelessly calls a military adventure a “peace-keeping” expedition. The mandarins of New Delhi did not pause to think even for a second when they named the Indian intervention in Sri Lanka the IPKF, Indian Peace Keeping Force, paradoxically juxtaposing the words Peace and Force in the same phrase. It is this hypocrisy and double-speak that characterizes our response to any situation.

India is perhaps the most violent nation on earth. So what if we do not have the same lax gun laws as the US? We do not need guns to inflict violence. We have a huge arsenal of other weapons that we do not hesitate to use on the less fortunate and weaker sections of our society. The newspapers and TV channels every day are full of acts of violence we keep perpetrating against one another. As a nation we are perpetually on a short fuse, and the merest suggestion from a “leader” is enough to send us into paroxysms of violent explosions. Obviously, we do not have the time or the inclination to look for enemies outside. We are too busy looking for enemies within, expending all our energy in bringing down potential rivals in our spheres of activity. This violence did not begin with the Partition. It was always there, bred into the system by a divisive and demeaning caste structure. The largely unrecorded and unnoticed violence perpetrated by the upper castes on the dalits and the adivasis is no less than what the white Europeans did to the natives of America, Africa, and Australasia. And, whereas in most of the colonized world affirmative action has taken firm and definite roots, in India it has not even begun. The system of reservations has been specially designed by the erstwhile exploiters to keep the majority in perpetual thrall while opening the circle selectively to include a few from these castes who have uplifted themselves economically through fraud and chicanery. One does not have to name such people; they are well-known in social and political circles.

Adding fuel to this explosive mixture is our media; especially the visual one. Our TV channels have made perhaps the most Faustian bargain with the Devil. The race for TRP ratings and getting “exclusive” scoops has sent all ethical considerations overboard. Nothing is sacrosanct. To get an exclusive “sound byte” TV channels and their reporters are ready to stoop to any level of sensational crassness and crudity. Some are not even above “manufacturing” news. For them the siege of Mumbai was a godsend. For sixty hours they had the air waves to themselves and without even batting an eyelid or stopping for breath, these reporters and their senior editors were, all at the same time, giving their “exclusive” versions of the unfolding drama. Their insensitivity was also captured live on camera when they tried to ask stupid and inane questions of the released hostages. The men in charge of the security forces had all the time in the world to give their versions of the ongoing battle, and one could see how eager they were to be on the tube. It mattered little that unarmed hostages were being slaughtered within the besieged buildings! The cameras were not recording those events. It was not necessary for them to be where their men were fighting a dangerous and determined enemy.

The continuous cycle of violence against the poor and the dispossessed is the greatest condemnation of India as an independent nation state. This violence need not be only physical. The government and its various arms have grown into a hydra-headed monster destroying all mechanisms of equitability, accountability, and fair-play from public life. The judicial system is so clogged and arcane that it serves only the rich and the powerful. In our country the poor have no voice, and whenever some politician tries to represent them, it soon appears that he or she has a totally different agenda – the agenda of self-promotion. The growing extent of the so-called red corridor is not accidental, nor externally inspired, as some of our leaders would like us to believe. India is fast heading towards disintegration and anarchy, and our intellectuals and the educated classes have not even begun to appreciate the extent of the problem. They still believe that abbreviated sms’s will do the magic and make the terrorists and the naxalites disappear.

No wonder that our enemies from across the borders are capable of striking targets in our country at will! We can keep on demanding that we change our politicians and administrators, but we forget that the person we most need to change is us. Until we bring down the barriers of “exclusivity” that our class and caste conscious society has erected, we have no chance of success. Unless we begin to appreciate that all citizens have equal rights and do not try to jump the queue through connections and money-power, we will remain in perpetual threat of the dispossessed taking resort to violence. And while we are busy suppressing our domestic rebellions, our neighbours will continue to strike at us making us weak and ineffectual.

India needs enlightened citizens as much as it needs leaders who are not “buffoons”. Once the citizens change themselves, the “buffoons” will automatically disappear. Till then, I am afraid, we will continue to watch the three-ring circus that is going on at this time.

Vijaya Kumar Dar
Coonoor, 2nd December, 2008