In retrospect, it’s obvious the UPA’s post-26/11 political management was superior to its military response to the terror attack.
The credit belonged as much to the people and civil society, which shrugged off a shrill media and snubbed hate mongers such as the Shiv Sena to maintain communal peace.
Barring the odd, ill-informed voices that screamed for revenge, India wept as one, from Chowpatty in Mumbai to Chandni Chowk in Delhi, over Pakistan-trained terrorists cutting down innocent people in Mumbai. The god they worshipped didn’t matter.
“The tragedy made us grow up as a society to protect the values we cherish,” recalled Minority Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid. He agreed that the people’s native wisdom came out shining in Delhi and Rajasthan, where they voted to defeat the cross-border attempt to manipulate Indian democracy a fortnight after the Mumbai carnage.
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi grossly misread the popular mood when he rushed to the scene of anti-terrorist action to paint Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as “weak”.
His machismo was in conflict with calls for unity by senior BJP leaders Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani. “It’s a full scale war on India. The country needs to stand together and fight resolutely,” said Advani in his first statement after the attack.
But it took the Hindutva party little time to revert to its standard position on terrorism. In the countdown to the Delhi polls, it outraged many of its middle class supporters by placing Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru’s execution above bread and butter issues.
The electorate denied BJP a chance, reposing faith in Sheila Dikshit who sought their mandate on her government’s development record. The outcome in Delhi and the regime change in Jaipur altered like never before the contours of public debate on terrorism.
The Congress won the states a fortnight after Mumbai. About 15 days before the attack, thousands of Ulema travelled to Hyderabad for a fatwa against terrorism.
The call was a culmination of several anti-terror conclaves within the Muslim community. Its impact was salutary, even magical, when read in tandem with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s urgings for rebuttal of ideologies that sustained or justified violence.
The social accord built into these initiatives was cemented by a spontaneous toning down of Eid celebrations. The political culture India lacked but direly required for fighting terror was in place — almost — after years of counseling.
So wide was the trust deficit two years ago that it had the PM relate with the Muslim angst. “I understand your pain. Some 10-15 years ago, Sikhs were looked at in the same suspicious way,” he told a 2006-meet of clerics.
The UPA’s bid to contain the fallout from Justice Liberhan’s Ayodhya probe report is guided by the same anxiety. “We have to keep society united at all costs,” cautioned a Muslim leader. “The 1993 Mumbai blasts were seen as legitimate revenge by my community for the post-Babri riots,” he said. “But there was nothing but revulsion for Pakistan after 26/11.” Let’s keep it that way.