The ‘Armani of armour’ is arriving in Delhi next week. In less stressful times, the visit of Colombian bulletproof couturier Miguel Caballero would have merited a Page 3 photo op. Today, the designer who has stylishly bulletproofed heads of state and movie stars makes the front page. He’s the man of the moment. India is an emerging market for his wares and he’s coming to claim first-mover advantage.
Security officials whose work brings them into contact with irregular forces have a bleak world view. Even two decades ago, if you chatted up Border Security Force (BSF) jawans or the lonely Intelligence Bureau and R&AW men stationed near the frontier, you came away with the surreal impression of India surrounded by a ring of fire, stinging itself to death like the scorpion in the fable. A doomed island of genteel idiocy in a region preparing for Armageddon.
Back home in the city, that image was easily dismissed as an exaggeration. But today, it bears the ring of truth. To our east, Bangladesh is dealing with the worst armed rising in recent history, and they have grounds for suspecting foreign instigation. To the south, what’s happening in Sri Lanka is technically civil war. To the west, Pakistan is ceding territory to the Taliban and now, it has seen the first organised attack on sportspersons since the Black September operation at the Munich Olympics in 1972. And in the north, we are on shaky ground with Maoist Nepal. The ring of fire is complete.
Within it, we are still recovering from a year of terror which culminated in the Mumbai attacks. Before we could come to terms with its enormity, the national discourse swiftly descended into the ridiculous, as the Hindu Taliban struck in Mangalore and Valentine vigilantism, pub bharo activism and pink chaddi agitprop dominated the headlines. Perhaps now that we have been accused of sniping at the Sri Lankan cricketers on third-party soil, the Taliban are within striking distance of our borders and, equally shocking, the IPL tour is in danger of being cancelled, we can turn our attention to security again. How we do that will define our future. Over the last year, we have been exposed to dubious notions of Muslim terror, Hindu terror, Christian plots, good Taliban, bad Taliban and conspiracy theories that would have left the Templars gasping. Such confusion, combined with a lack of faith in government, usually leads to a fortress mentality. The US went through a similar trajectory after 9/11 and ruined its international image by choosing the path of hot pursuit in Asia.
We are in an even more difficult situation. The picture is so muddied in our region that we no longer know who the enemy is. Is there a plot against us, as any BSF jawan or IB man posted on the border will assure you? Is there an organisation behind it? Is it the ISI, or is that just an easy catch-all acronym for a very complicated reality which stretches across borders? Will we ever get intelligent answers to these questions? Or, given the doublespeak and state-sponsored chicanery we see in this region, is it more prudent to stop thinking about it all and just order some bulletproof kurtas from Senor Caballero?
Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine