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Politicians, shut up and listen

india Updated: Nov 30, 2008 22:17 IST

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After the fear and the sense of utter helplessness comes the rage. This should have been directed at a common enemy that has ruptured India’s sense of easy security forever. But it has been directed elsewhere: at our political class.

More than four days after Mumbai was brought to its knees by marauding killers, the single question that Indians in general and Mumbaikars in particular are asking is: so do things change from now? The answer is being provided by the questioners themselves: no, not by what we already find happening within our political class.

The terror attack on Mumbai was the last straw. The fact that this ‘last straw’ was required for Home Minister Shivraj Patil to have taken ‘moral responsibility’ and resign brings little comfort to the people of India. Mr Patil alone isn’t responsible for India’s ho-hum attitude towards terror. Another Mr Patil — the Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister — was on record on Saturday stating that “such stray incidents keep happening in big cities”. Instead, the government, the Opposition, the whole spectrum that makes up political India is responsible for things coming to such a pass.

The government has been shuffling its feet, tapping its fingers on committee tables for all too long. The Opposition, on its part, may be clamouring for a whole set of heads to roll. But does it care enough to act responsibly and go beyond the ‘Look what you’ve done!’ catchphrase?

Today as India stands at the crossroads, the country is unsure whether any political entity is capable of taking on terrorism head-on without just launching into a rhetorical assault that serves little real purpose.

There have been much hand-wringing and stern words of action-to-be-taken ricocheting all around. There is also unconfirmed reports of attempts to swivel the focus of the real problem — how to quickly and effectively put permanent systems and laws in place to see to it that future terror attacks do not happen — to somewhere else: ‘mulling over’ whether India should suspend its ongoing dialogue and ceasefire with Pakistan. But these are all flimsy gestures in the face of the navel-gazing, mud-slinging and hectoring being shamelessly conducted by our netas. India doesn’t need good salesman now;

it needs politicians who are strong enough to take on the real adversary unitedly.

We aren’t naive enough to think that the terror that India witnessed in Mumbai will herald the end of political one-upmanship. Even on how the nation should fight terrorism, there is bound to be different opinions among our politicians. But what we are looking for is some basic consensus that is based on issues that go beyond ticket-sale, vote-bank, sound-bite politics.

Instead, politicians have been lining up for mandatory ‘victim tours’, compensation package distribution ceremonies and other ‘brand-building’ exercises. Terror is not fodder for this kind of politics. Why is that something our politicians find so difficult to understand?

The rest of the world is watching how our leaders react to Mumbai 26/11. So far, they have made the world wince in consternation. If that kind of response is embarrassing for us, our feeling of vulnerability and helplessness fuels our rage. And this anger is targeted against a class for whom everything is either a handy tool for scoring political points or nothing at all.

Over the last few days, we’ve had the cocker-spaniel look on the faces of many politicians who insist that it’s wrong — and “too easy” — to blame the political class for the mess we’re in today. This has always been construed as a cynical, lazy response from a panic-stricken citizenry against ‘easy targets’. The fact of the matter is that cynicism and laziness have been the hallmarks of our politicians.

Politicians should today stare at, confront and act against the real enemy. And please, stop playing the same cacophonous broken record again and again and again.