Sunday, November 30, 2008

"In India, life is cheap"

"In India, life is cheap."

Those were the words of a US citizen when asked about her reactions to the terrorist attack of 26/11. And I can't agree more. Being an Indian, I very well know that here, life has no pricetag. The events unfolding after 26/11 just go a step further in establishing this known fact. What have we lost? Nothing! What have we gained? Nothing. What remains is blood, anger and superficial bursts of patriotic euphoria... I was sceptical about writing this blog, but then I had to vent myself out. I know not many people are going to like this piece of thought. Criticize me, hate me; throw brickbats... but then this is what I feel about the entire situation...

You may think I am angry. But I am not. Am I shaken? Certainly. But the feeling that is coming out strong and clear in me today is that of being ashamed. I am ashamed of being an Indian today. By India, I mean to point out to the 'system' of which we all are a part. No, no fingers at politicians for heaven's sake. I know we Indians are very well trained and love to throw brickbats at our politicians, but something more larger is accountable than just politicians. So am I being a non-patriot? Think as you like, but thats certainly not the case. When your sibling does something that makes you hang your head in shame, does that mean you don't love him/her anymore? Then can't we digest the fact that being ashamed of one's nation is equally natural? More soever, over an incidence that exposes your incapabilities and lack of will in front of the whole world?


10 terrorists. Over 400 NSG commandos. 60+ hours of operations. 3 locations. 100s of army personnel. This equation would certainly make any crisis management team, red-faced. Around 10:45 pm on 26th November, the police had an inkling of what they were up against. With very little information about the whole scenario, the police initiated an action. The Mumbai police stepped in quickly and tried to initiate primary operations. That was very commendable and Mumbai police truly lived to their expectations. Sadly, with the loss of 3 top brass officers, the operation hit a major hurdle. Karkare, Salaskar & Kamte suffered multiple bullet injuries and died. An observation that has come up now, in one of the dailies is that the bullet-proof jackets worn by these bravehearts bore marks of bullets passing through the protective covering! Is that what we give our saviours to wear when they lead from the front without caring for their lives? When they don't think twice about sacrificing their lives for the nation, is it not our duty to protect them in any way we can? Compromising on quality of bullet-proof jackets can happen only in India, I am sure! This is also a good indicator of how our priorities on defence spending are grossly misdirected. We spend millions on producing indigenous missiles and long range nukes. But when it comes to a soldier on the ground, we cant even give him a proper state-of-the-art equipment to deal with the enemy face to face? Do our missiles deal with terrorists holed up in cities? Are we not aware of changing nature of conflicts and defence situations that we would be confronting in the future? As I said, life is cheap... jackets are costlier!

The decision to call in NSG commandos came in quickly, but the time span between decision and action seemed like light years. I was again reminded of the Indian Airlines hijacking at Kandahar. 9 hours for beginning a commando operation of highest priority is something to be ridiculed. What message do we give to the international community? Is that our face of commitment and will to fight terrorism? And when they finally came, I thought that it was now time for the terrorists to count their minutes. Minutes transformed to hours, hours to days. This wasn't looking to be quite a commando operation, considering the typical parameters of one. I wouldn't go in depth commenting on what was expected. But experts in this field would surely agree that the operation was ill-planned and lacked proper logistics. It certainly wasn't one of the commendable operations as per international experiences and standards of operations was considered. Clearly, some major shortcomings on the commando action is clearly pointed out. When NSG commandos are used to provide security to top-brass politicians, I better not comment on the quality compromise that stares us in the face. Another very disturbing piece of news that came up was that our commandos didn't have the basic floor plan of the hotels! Now thats something that is really not expected of intelligence inputs and logistics team. And don't we feel ashamed when the international media takes note of this? Was it really that difficult for this input not to reach the daredevils on ground zero? Again, I have no words. On one hand we speak of making Mumbai another Shanghai, and on the other, thats the crude system of information we have in place as of now! Making a mega city dwells much further than just building state-of-the-art highrises and flyovers. And logistics is a subject we fail repeatedly.


Even in the midst of operations, the resilience of Mumbaikars and the undying spirit of Mumbai was in newsroom discussions. Politicians too followed upon the same recurring statement which comes after every crisis Mumbai undergoes. The fact is that this has gone too far. We feel proud when someone flatters us about this 'resilience', whereas in reality this has become a popular way of dealing with people of Mumbai. Praise them, sugar-coat your words in tried and tested tastes of bravado and valiance.. and Mumbaikars feel proud and sky-high. Its high time we know how much we are taken for granted by the use of these words.

Ok, forget everything. Lets apply our mind into this word 'resilience' which is used over and over again. In fact, we should realize that not being resilient is a luxury for us. We do not bounce back because we unitedly decide to, but because, we 'have to'. We can't afford staying back in our homes after any calamity. The city has an incredible appetite, and if you dont work or carry out your tasks so as to satiate this ever-growing hunger, you yourself would be eaten. That is why, even if you want to stay at home, you are 'forced' to come out and start your day's work. The bottomline is: "You don't have a choice".

If that is what we call resilience, we are grossly mistaken. And the 'spirit of Mumbai' that is talked about is nothing but smilingly accepting this mistaken phenomenon. And that makes Mumbai special, because the city doesn't allow you to sit down and think!


As always, politicians are quick to respond to any situation; apart from the fact that the response is misdirected and rarely of any valuable help. And politicians certainly lived up to their 'expectations'. Our honourable PM and Sonia Gandhi made a quick dash to Mumbai a day after the operations started. And it was anyone's guess what a great deal of support they were going to provide. In fact the situation in the city was that policemen had already been deployed in large numbers since the whole city was a war zone. Now, a VIP coming to the city requires another large deployment for the security arrangements to cater to him. That certainly put an additional pressure on the police presence in the city. But then who cares? What difference does it make to us when politicians come to the city? Nothing! But then, do they spend a small thought for the policemen who bear the brunt of this indifference?

Narendra Modi made his presence felt. Supposedly he came to stand up and be one with the people of Mumbai in this hour of crisis. But what he did was nothing but to criticize the PM's speech and immaturely announce 1 crore to the families of the martyrs. Only he can talk business when the city is grappling with bullets.


Anger! Thats an integral part of us all. In this situation, we too were angry and frustrated. Our blood was boiling. We don't know what we were angry for.. Do we ever think about that? People get killed, so you are angry! They bomb our city so you are angry! They killed our soldiers, so you are angry! Ok, so be it. Our helplessness manifested into anger and frustration. But then what do we do when we are angry? NOTHING. We just wait till the anger cools down! Meanwhile, we can do what we do best when we are angry - lash out against Pakistan. Its a classic example of misdirected anger. We need to realize that Pakistan is equally helpless when it comes to crushing terrorism. As a state, Pakistan is in a bad shape today, almost on the verge of going bankrupt. Both Pakistan and India are victims of terrorism - and they have failed badly tackling it. Not that India has been very successful, but then the blame game is easy and rides on the rival sentiments of the people. And when we vent out anger against Pakistan, we are quite off the track. Even if its quite popular in India, that doesn't justify it in any way. One of my friends had put his display quote on Orkut: Kill all Pakis. That grossly demonstrates the traditional anger target. As Premshankar Jha pointed out in a TV discussion, "Anger in a civilized society is a luxury, unless channelized properly".

There could be another reason for anger. This reason could be a subconscious one and you may or may not accept it. Is it so that we are angry because somewhere in us we know that the terrorists achieved their objective - terrorizing people? We killed the terrorists, but we didn't defeat terrorism. We won the fight, but lost the battle. Today I am shaken. I am scared. Scared that me and my family are not safe anymore in this country. Whether indoors or outdoors, the fear factor prevails and thats what the objective of terrorists was. And I believe they successfully completed the mission.

Another thing I would like to point out. Do not take it in a wrong sense. But I need to appreciate what is well done. I sincerely believe that the terrorists should be appreciated because they finished the task at hand with determination and with professional skills. 10 terrorists fighting against 400+ NSG commandos, the most elite of India's military force; for 3 days is a praiseworthy achievement. I hope we take a lesson from them that dedication to one's task should not be compromised.


Finally after 3 days of gunfire, its the time for counting. The brave sons of India who died fighting, got a tearful goodbye, with a promise that we will remember you always. A promise that is never kept. The euphoria and the mass reaction certainly are encouraging, but it dies out soon. In no more than 6 months, Karkare, Kamte, Salaskar, Sandeep Unnikrishnan, Gajendra Singh would be forgotten. And I am not saying this; our history stands as a testimonial. The valour of our martyrs soak in the wetness of our euphoric patriotism and dries out soon as the sun of getting back to life shines brightly and warmly. How many of us truly will remember them? You think you will? Ok, take this simple test..

Tell me, who won the 'Indian Idol 1' competition? The name 'Abhijeet Sawant' would come to your mind instantly. If not instantly, after racking your memory for a minute or two you would get the answer. In the worst case scenario, even if you don't know, ask your family members or the neighbours and you will certainly get this answer.

Now answer this: Who was the 1st martyr of the Kargil War? I know it wouldn't come to you instantly. Rack your brains, take an hour or two.. still no answer, right? Ask your family members or neighbours. Google '1st martyr of Kargil war', still you wouldn't get the answer. Thats because 'Lt. Saurabh Kalia' is a page lost in the history, almost a decade ago...

We remember 'Abhijeet Sawant' but not 'Lt. Saurabh Kalia'. Some of you may argue that its not his name but the sacrifice he made for the country that we remember. Fair enough. Now be honest to yourself and see whether you take Lt. Kalia's name in the same state of emotions and euphoria as you take Maj. Unnikrishnan's name... Certainly that wont be the case. Soon Maj. Unnikrishnan would be Lt. Kalia and the process will continue...


What remains is a shaken nation that would soon stabilize, even in the face of inaction. Lessons won't be learnt just as they have never been in the past because questions will go unanswered. A few measures here and there would be initiated and with no one to follow up and due to lack of political will and determination, it would go down the drain or some middle-man would reap its monetary benefits. Strong condemning would follow, eminent people would be showcased on newsroom talkshows, security would be momentarily tightened up, people would be vigilant till 26/11 is forgotten... What it takes to stir up the nation is only an attack of this magnitude, and till lessons are not learnt, we are going to face these attacks more frequently. Taking note of 9/11 for the US, there hasn't been a single terrorist incident after that, whereas in India, a bombing here and there is a routine practice. If a country like US, a country so vast in geography can keep a check on these activities, why can't we?

The bottomline is that your nation is not going to provide for your safety. A day may come when we have to burn candles every week; worse every day. Its every man for himself and that leaves us divided in the end. And still we will say, "I am proud to be an Indian".