Toothless leaders turn tough nation into soft state
By M J Akbar
Does it need grief to unite us? Where was Raj Thackeray when anonymous heroes from across the nation saved Mumbai from rabid vultures? Why did he not issue a diktat that he did not want any Bihari or Haryanvi or Malayali commando to save Mumbai?
India belongs to Mumbai since Mumbai belongs to India; the two need each other. The Maharashtra government looked hopelessly helpless before an invasion propelled by Pakistanis and navigated by a local, subversive fifth column.
Perhaps the low moment came around 8.30 on Thursday morning. While flames, gunfire, chaos mingled with shock a spokesman for the state government told CNN that the “situation is under control”. Yes, if you live in Somalia.
Hidden under grime and neglect, perhaps there is a little Somalia within Mumbai, waiting to burst out and infect the body politic. This sinewy, seamless nether world is nourished by the “black economy”, and has contempt for authority since it feeds, twice a day, the grubby hand of a policeman. Organized crime requires both sophisticated management and corrupt law enforcement agencies.
The underworld does not live in isolation; smuggling is a multinational enterprise. Once it was gold; today it is drugs. Only the naïve are aghast at the thought that ships from Karachi are landing in Mumbai. Each day ships are being loaded in Sindh with street-ready drugs from Afghanistan for the lucrative markets of rising India. Do the stars of Bollywood, the money-shifters of Dalal Street, the dolled up celebrities of Mumbai’s many hills — indeed, from the wealth bracket of many of the guests at Taj on Wednesday night — never ask how their hallucinatory puff has reached them?
The Mumbai mafia, with support from the police-politician partnership, has brought this puff to your party — via Pakistan.
There is a strong Muslim element in the Mumbai mafia. Bereft of either loyalty or morality, it can be easily lured into fantasies of revenge by its contacts in Karachi. Aggression is a psychological necessity of this trade, so the offer of havoc has the lure of a lethal snake. It lives in a unique mental and economic zone, different from the rest of India as well as India’s largely impoverished Muslims.
The initial reaction of some Indian Muslims to Mumbai was denial, a manifestation of their fear of retribution by both the state and the people. Some theories coasting on the net were particularly stupid. The paradox of fear is evident in contradictory manifestations: at one level, an urgent desire to find evidence of conspiracy by either the Mossad or Hindutva elements; at another level, to retreat into the comfort zone of familiar folly, like hope for security from the party that has betrayed them most often. The community will not be able to recognize necessary truths, both within and without, unless it can rub fear out of its eyes.
The most significant part of the outrage should not be obscured by the drama of events.
Hypnotized by attack, we should not become oblivious of defence. We have been defeated by incompetent governance, both in Mumbai and Delhi. Facts will take more time to emerge. But perhaps up to 60 men hit nine targets in coordinated waves. This could not have happened without months of planning. Resources — weapons, rations, money — were mobilized; a small army trained across two countries; targets studied, routes finalized, transport organized, sleeper cells put in place. We learn that terrorists may have been living at the Taj for days, ferrying arms into what was surely turned into a war-room. Men arrived by sea, linked up with compatriots on land and launched multiple attacks. This must have involved hundreds at the planning stage, and the massive infrastructure of government discovered nothing. Where was the police? Where was the Anti-Terrorist Squad? Its chief, Hemant Karkare (undoubtedly a very brave officer, who lost his life in the battles that raged through the night) apparently received a death threat from Pune a few days before the mayhem but his own unit did not bother: they were all busy playing games on behalf of political masters. Complacence and politics gave the terrorists more protection than silence or deception could.
Terrorists may have a religion but death has none. In the first roll-call of death issued by the JJ Hospital, the name next to Karkare was that of Mastan Qureshi. There were six Hindus, four Muslims and two foreigners, presumably Christians, on that list.
Indians are tough. We have fought off Muslim terrorists in Kashmir, Sikh terrorists in Pun jab, Christian terrorists in Nagaland, and Hindu terrorists in Assam and across the country (the Naxalites). But ineffectual leadership turning a tough nation into a soft state. We should have been world leaders in the war against terrorists, for no nation has more experience Instead we are wallowing in the complacent de spair of a continual victim.
Some three years ago, Dr Manmohan Singh told George Bush that there were no terrorists among Indian Muslims. Perhaps he was unaware of the 1993 Mumbai bombings. Perhaps he wanted to please two constituencies: Bush, who needed a certificate for his view that democracy was the cure for all evil; and local Muslims, who were not being given jobs but could always be offered the consolation prize of a pat on the back.
Dr Singh certainly did not fool any terrorists. The Lashkar-e-Taiba might even have interpreted such self-congratulation as a challenge.
I am proud of being an Indian Muslim. Like any Indian, I am angry, frustrated and depressed I am angry at the rabid dogs of war. I am frustrated by the tone-deaf impotence of government. I am depressed at the damage being done to my India.
Appeared in Times of India - November 30, 2008