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     Volume 7 Issue 51 | January 2, 2009 |

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Food for Thought

Sense and Sensitivities

Part 2

Farah Ghuznavi

Survivors of the Mumbai blasts being led to safety.

In the aftermath of the Mumbai blasts, the attitude of media organisations in India has reflected a strong tendency to equate the attacks with the September 2001 terrorist strikes in America. Not satisfied with dubbing this “India's 9/11”, the various news media have appropriated almost verbatim the language of the US (e.g. drawing parallels between the Taj and Oberoi hotels and the twin towers), with publications like India Today encouraging the Indian people to sign an online pledge “declaring war on terror”. Many commentators have also expressed views (coherently or otherwise) that essentially support the Bush doctrine, indicating that a segment of the population considers Indians to be the New Americans.

This sometimes belligerent attitude is reflected in proposed anti-terror legislation likely to include (along with a provision for 180 days detention for terror suspects) an approach that allows terrorist suspects to be viewed as “guilty until proven innocent”. In cases such as the Mumbai attacks there is more than enough incontrovertible proof to ensure convictions - including CCTV footage, forensic evidence, and in the case of the sole surviving terrorist, 33 eye-witnesses ready to provide a positive ID - so such draconian measures hardly seem necessary. Instead, given India's appalling human rights record, (similar to its neighbours in the region), the potential for gross abuse of such provisions is a more likely outcome.

As far as echoing the Bush doctrine is concerned, it is hard to understand why so many people should support a policy that has proved singularly ineffective. As Arundhati Roy points out in her excellent essay “The Monster in the Mirror”, who can possibly claim that the United States is winning the war on terror? As a result of policies followed by the US government in the wake of the September 11th attacks, the US military finds itself overwhelmed by two unwinnable wars, which have made the US the most hated country in the world; in the case of Afghanistan (which proved the undoing of the Soviets), the conflict could even be the beginning of the end for the American Empire.

Tens of thousands of people (including those cynically classified as “collateral damage”) have been killed as a direct result of these conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan; and George W. Bush, the leader who presided over the entire fiasco, is loathed by the majority of the world's population, as well as many of his own countryfolk. Even his terminal-stage, spasmodic attempts at PR for his regime have ended up making him a laughing stock. After all, how many American presidents (or those of any other country, for that matter) will be remembered for having shoes hurled at him at a press conference - an incident that was viewed, in many cases with great enjoyment, all over the world?

Roy also makes the valid point that while much has been made of the Indian commandos' actions during the attacks, India should think carefully before seeking to remake itself in the image of the US. Quite apart from the question of how effective America's measures, including the Patriot Act and the setting up of the Homeland Security department have been, the fact is that the so-called war on terror has cost the US government billions of ill-spent dollars - much of it going directly into the pockets of those affiliated to the ruling neo-con clique in Washington.

While emulating that kind of financial extravagance currently remains beyond India's capacities, it is highly debatable as to how effective such an approach would even be closer to home. As Roy points out, if ten terrorists can keep at bay police and NSG commandos for three days and it takes half a million soldiers to hold down the Kashmir valley what kind of Homeland Security would India need in order to keep its citizens safe?

And while the hawkish comments of so-called celebrities such as Simi Garewal can be dismissed as too lightweight to be taken seriously, there are others out there more capable and all too ready to engage in rabble-rousing. The big beast of these, Narendra Modi of Gujarat (widely believed to be among the chief architects of the horrific communal riots there), has already showed his hand, wasting no time in spitting accusations and promising remuneration to victims' families; a sickeningly obvious attempt to exploit the tragedy for party political purposes.

Similarly, BJP member Arun Shourie energetically hurled accusations at the government during the recent Rajya Sabha debate, suggesting in memorably fascistic language, that India target Pakistan's vital installations - “Not an eye for an eye; but for an eye, both eyes. For a tooth, (the) whole jaw”! This is part of a well-established pattern of anti-terrorism rhetoric for the saffron clique, which has however rushed to unconditionally defend the Hindu accused of the Malegaon bomb blasts (going as far as to assert that “Hindu terrorist” is a term that cannot be used because Hindus cannot be terrorists).

This, despite ample proof to the contrary in some recent cases, including blasts in Nanded (Maharashtra) and Tenkasi (Tamil Nadu), where the involvement of members of the Hindu extremist groups the Bajrang Dal and Sangh Parivar was exposed. In the Tenkasi case, the accused confessed that they had organised bomb blasts at the RSS office in order to instigate the local Hindu population against the Muslims. In Nanded, where the bombs went off prematurely in the location where they were being manufactured, recovered evidence showed that the real perpetrators had planned to masquerade as Muslims, while carrying out these activities. As well as exposing their true colours by supporting the Bajrang Dal members involved in the Nanded case, the BJP has made its communal character all too evident by venomously targeting “the menace of tens of thousands of Bangladeshi citizens” in their manifesto for the Delhi Assembly elections classic scaremongering tactics that target a vulnerable group consisting primarily of disadvantaged economic migrants!

These other incidents, like the Malegaon blasts, must be adequately and neutrally probed in order to verify the true story behind the events, and bring the perpetrators to justice. Such potentially controversial and politically sensitive cases need to be handled by investigating officers of the utmost integrity, like Hemant Karkare so recently before his death utterly vilified by the Hindutva hooligans, who subsequently had the nerve to offer his widow financial compensation for her loss!

The desire to determine the back story of bomb blasts such as those in Nanded and Tamil Nadu should not be confused with any endorsement of the bizarre conspiracy theories that South Asians have become masters at putting about. There are undoubtedly politicians on both sides of the religious divide who seek to play vote-bank games. But the search for truth is not helped by counter-theorists such as the Congress politician Antulay, who has recently been muddying the water of Hemant Karkare's death by suggesting that it could have been even more sinister than the terrible coincidence of Islamic extremists killing one of the few senior officers who would not bow to the demands of their Hindu counterparts.

While the saffron parties may have secretly rejoiced at the killing of Karkare, the fact remains that it is unlikely that any of them were directly responsible for what happened. So, as M.J. Akbar points out, while the likes of Simi Garewal see a Pakistan where there isn't one, the likes of Antulay “will not see a Pakistan where there is one”! The fact is, cross border attacks from Pakistan have been a fundamental feature of life in India for some years now, and must be acknowledged as such; it would be utterly disingenuous to claim otherwise, no matter how many "Hindu terrorists" are discovered working on their own homemade bombs. The main issue at stake here is a rational approach towards investigation of any terrorist activity, no matter who the perpetrators may be.

(to be continued next week…)
All facts and figures taken from The Independent (UK), The Telegraph (India), India Today, NDTV, Arundhati Roy's “The Monster in the Mirror” and “Antulay is the Simi Garewal of Indian Politics” by M. J. Akbar and The Hindu.



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