The war on Mumbai

On 26 November, terrorists struck India’s financial capital — Mumbai — in one of the most brazen attacks ever seen in India. They entered the city through the sea route, striking at the Victoria Terminus, Leopold Cafe, and Cama Hospital first. In this first strike, the nation lost three of its best police officers — Anti-terrorism squad chief Hemant Karkare, encounter specialist Vijay Salaskar and Additional Commissioner of Police Ashok Kamte.

The terrorists then proceeded to take two high-profile hotels — the iconic Taj Mahal hotel and the Oberoi-Trident — and Nariman House (also known as Chabad House) hostage. The siege, which lasted almost 60 hours, claimed the life of the rabbi and his wife, leaving their young son an orphan.

This latest and most brazen attack, which the media dubbed India’s 9/11, has horrified the nation. For three days Indians sat glued to their television, in mute horror, watching the drama unfold on television. We watched, helpless, as the terrorists set fire to the heritage Taj Mahal hotel, we cringed as we heard gun shots and grenade blasts ring out, we watched with bated breath as NSG commandoes engaged the terrorists, and we cried when we heard about the number of hostages who are killed, and as we saw some hostages released. Once it was all over, though, we became a nation angry. This time we will not call upon “the spirit of Mumbai.” This time we want to see political action. Platitudes will not work anymore.

But, this is India.

Politicization of the attack

On day 1 of the attack, leader of the opposition L.K. Advani said he would work together with the UPA government and not use this event as a political campaign point. The next day, he forgot all about his promise and the BJP released full page color ads politicizing the issue. Its leaders like Rajasthan CM Vasundhra Raje are using the Mumbai siege as a topic to gain political mileage.

Then we have other politicians that give a gem of a soundbyte. Sample this:

Some women wearing lipstick and powder have taken to streets in Mumbai and are abusing politicians spreading dissatisfaction against democracy. This is what terrorists are doing in Jammu and Kashmir. These are difficult times for the nation. In times like this we should unite in our war against terror and the Pak sponsored attacks rather than waging war against the democratic institutions.

This, gem of a quote was given by the BJP’s Mukhtar Naqvi, his view of the candle light vigils being held in Mumbai and elsewhere around the country condeming the terror attack.

Weak-kneed response

PM Manmohan Singh called for Pakistan to send ISI chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha to New Delhi to present him with hard evidence about the involvement of Pakistani elements, including Lashkar-e Toiba (LeT) terrorists, in the Mumbai strike. After agreeing initially, Pakistan refused to send his over. Now, Zardari is saying that there is no evidence that the terrorists were Pakistanis, and even if they were, they are stateless elements and Pakistan can do nothing about it. This, despite India having given them evidence of ISI involvement in the attack. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to India was also make to placate India and to ensure that we do not take military action against Pakistan. If we do, their war on terror will be affected, as they are using that country as the base from which to launch attacks on Afghanistan.

Intelligence failure

The attacks also point to a total intelligence failure, with agencies initially claiming they had no evidence about the attacks. Later, though, it became apparent that they simply ignored the evidence that they did get. Fishermen had submitted written letters stating there was suspicious activity at ports. Fishermen in Gujarat also reported that Indian trawlers were crossing over into Pakistani waters, meeting trawlers there, and coming back into Indian waters without being arrested. After repeated requests to improve safety at the Gateway of India, stating the sea route could be used for an attack, one police van and two policemen were stationed in the area. On the day of the attack, this motley security was also missing.

All of this points to the fact that this attack couldnt have been carried out without political sanction. This is not to say that the politicians were involved in it, but just that they chose to ignore warning signs and ensure the saftey of civilians. The reason? Simple. Political gains.

Hostage stories

One of the stories that really stayed with me was related by a foreign couple who had come to India on a 1-month holiday. They were happy to be safe, praised the commandoes, and said that they had no plans to cut their trip short. Though the wife got teary while relating their terror while they were held hostage, her husband said that this episode would just serve as a road bump to their plans, they did not plan to give in to fear.

You cannot give into fear, or you let the terrorists win. When they are holding a gun to your head, that is the time to feel fear. But to let fear rule your life is to let them win. And I will not let that happen.

Isn’t this the mantra to live by?

The Kali controversy

Two days back Heidi Klum’s picture was splashed in the newspapers — and she looked absolutely terrifying! It was her Halloween get-up as Goddess Kali. And boy! It was stunning! She looked, exactly, like Kali, right down to the scary red eye make-up!

But, as usual, some people have raked up a controversy over it. Sample this:

Goddess Kali is highly revered in Hinduism and she is meant to be worshipped in temples and not to be used in clubs for publicity stunts or thrown around loosely for dramatic effects

this is offensive, to the Hindu community. I know many other people who would also agree. There may be other things to worry about, but for the Hindu community, retaining self respect and upholding our traditional values is of utpmost importance to us.

my reason for finding offence in the ‘counting of arms’s is quite simply the fact that people are ignoring the issue that she has in fact dressed up as Hindu Goddess and insulting the Hindu community at the same time. I am quite surprised, however that you now admit that you are a Hindu, and find no offence in this matter.

I’m a Hindu and I really DO NOT find it offensive. What I DO find offensive, however, is how her dressing up as Kali is being blown out of proportion. So OK, we worship Kali. And yes, she is an important Hindu deity. But for heaven’s sakes! Why do we get so worked up and ready to froth at the mouth over relegion?! Why can’t we take some things in the spirit in which they are ment to be taken?

What we should be up in arms against is the terrorist activities being carried out by the VHP and Bajrang Dal. They are the real blight to our relegion, which is supposed to be open and tolerant, not closed and fundamentalist.

Be the change…

…and he was! Barack Obama has made history by becoming the first African American president of the United States of America. This was a closely watched election around the world (the US election generally is!), but what was different this time was the spontaneous erruption of joy the world over and a feeling of having achieved something! A change is truly coming.

But why, for someone sitting in India, should this be such a magical moment? Maybe it’s the interconnectedness of human beings, maybe it’s joy at seeing the rise of a historically opressed race…maybe, it gives a glimmer of hope that something similar could happen here, some day.

While we all followed the US presidential campaign and watched the US elections, the fact of the matter is that for most youngsters in India, elections in our country hold absolutely no charm. I was discussing this with some friends over lunch yesterday, and we came to a few conclusions.

The US system is, in some ways, really simple. There are just two majour parties and two major canditates to vote for. Election manifestos are available and accessable to the general public, and most of what they talk about during the rallies seems relevant to the nation as a whole, unlike here, where vote bank politics rules the roost. The candidates, typically, are people you would want to see as leaders, who you could put your faith in — Obama this time, Al Gore during the last presidential election — whereas here, we really couldn’t care less. We have old foggies like Mr. Advani as PM hopeful — and he’s in his 90s! People in the US actually queue up and cast their vote! We take election day as a holiday, the perfect time to sleep-in late! But then, look at our choices!

We have no faith in the system, things aren’t going to change. Even if there are a few politicians willing to bring about a change (Rahul Gandhi seems to be doing quite a bit these days), most of the old guard and the old parties are not going to let them function. We have a huge number of political parties here, none of whom we have any faith in! There’s the Congress, which was famous for the Mandal Commission, and now is known for its sectarian politics. The BJP is blatantly pro-Hindutva — they still field and respect Naredra Modi after the Gujrat carnage! The Left is against technology and progress. The BSP is Mayawati. I’m not entirely sure why people are against her, though. She’s the Obama of India, a Dalit who is a PM hopeful. Yes, she has got corruption cases against her, but then, which politician doesn’t? And she has done a lot for the Dalits. She is someone I don’t know too much about, but there seems to be no support for her either.

Unless there are some changes to our political system and to our politicians sometime soon, I don’t think we’re going to see the youth or the young professionals turning out to vote. I know I wouldnt! I simply couldn’t care less!

The spirit of Delhi

Delhi was struck by 5 serial bomb blasts this Saturday — all of them targeting busy, popular markets and hangouts. While these were supposed to be “low-intensity bombs,” lives were lost, and a few people I know had lucky escapes. Very luckily, everyone I know is safe.

While this is a shameful act of terrorism, and while it brought together strangers from every walk of life to help, it also brought the wierdos out onto the street. While most people were expressing their shock and outrage at the bombings, a mother-daughter duo from Safdurjung Enclave drove especially all the way to GK to see the bomb blast! They had the gall, on national television, to laughingly say that they were “very well aware that there have been 5 blasts in Delhi,” go on to list the places where the blasts happened, and say, “my daughter wanted to see the blast, so we drove down to have a look.” What gall! Is this a tourist spot, or a display, that people are specially driving in to have a look-see? Shocking!

Another thing that has me thinking is this phrase: “Sprit of Delhi.” Replace it with any Indian state that has suffered a terrorist attack in the recent past — things are back to normal the very next day. Is this really the spirit of the city, or are we becoming indifferent to the death and terrorism we see around us everyday? I don’t mean to sound callous, but it is a fact — Indians are exposed to a number of terrorist attacks, religious riots, non-issues being made into issues and what have you, that we seem to have developed an immunity to such events — as long as we are not directly affected by them. We disguise this indifference by calling it our spirit.

But terrorism is a shocking event. While the goal of a terrorist is to strike fear in the heart of citizens, we cannot just get up, brush ourselves off, and go on like nothing has happened. There needs to be accountability in the system. Culprits — the real culprits, not innocents rounded up on the basis of their relegion — need to be put behind bars. The nation should send a strong message to terrorists — that we will not take this lying down. We will hunt you down and bring justice to our citizens.

The police, though, do nothing. The UP police is being partially blamed for the terrorist strike. They apparently had intelligence about the planned strike, and a tip-off on where the terroists were hiding, but were lax in pursuing it. Let’s see how the Delhi police react — they apparently have an eye-witness. How this will play out will be relvealed over the next few days.