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Talk is cheap, lives are not

Barring a few credible news channels, the electronic media began acquiring perspectives on the terror strike from the usual ‘Page 3’ suspects who know nothing about intelligence or policing, writes Milind Deora.

india Updated: Nov 30, 2008 22:48 IST

The last few days have been devastating for every Mumbaikar. All our hearts go out to those who have lost their dear ones. I’ve been awake since 8 a.m. on Wednesday, barring a few hours of interrupted sleep on Thursday and Friday nights, and have witnessed the most horrific yet moving events of my life.

Immediately after the news broke, my partymen and I prevented a mob outside Nariman House from becoming an easy target for a grenade attack, had a narrow escape when a seized police Toyota Qualis vehicle hurled grenades at the car we were in, assisted shattered relatives identify bodies of their family members, and helped government hospitals mobilise resources from other hospitals that weren’t as inundated with dead bodies.

We must never take for granted the efforts of Mumbai’s indispensable uniformed personnel: the police, the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS), the National Security Guard (NSG), Army and marine commandos, firemen and the staff of hospitals and others, especially those who are martyrs.

Unlike previous terrorist strikes in Mumbai, Wednesday’s was targeted at Mumbai’s well-to-do. The nature of the attack was also different from anything that the world may have ever seen. The encounters were deliberately prolonged by the terrorists to create a spectacle on television that would last for days.

Barring a few credible news channels, the electronic media began acquiring perspectives on the terror strike from the usual ‘Page 3’ suspects who know nothing about intelligence or policing. The stereotypical questions from such panelists included, “Why can’t India secure her borders like the US?”, “Why do Western countries have better intelligence than us?”, “Why wasn’t a hostage negotiator used at the Taj and Oberoi hotels?”

Please allow me to put things in perspective. India shares her land and maritime borders with more than a handful of politically unpredictable nations, many of whom aren’t too fond of India. The US and Europe don’t. If America’s borders are impermeable, how do illegal immigrants from Mexico enter that country? Finally, if all the might of the US, Britain, Australia, Japan and other developed nations combined hasn’t been able to catch Osama bin Laden for over seven years, why do we have unrealistic expectations from India?

I’m in no way saying that we should stop expecting our state and central governments to guarantee our safety. We must remember that countries like the US benefit from effective intelligence because their global strategic partnerships allow them to share information with friendly nations. Intelligence gathering, especially when it relates to threats emanating from abroad, can’t happen effectively if we work in isolation. India is working towards building important global strategic partnerships that will give our intelligence establishment access to the best information. All this will soon give us an edge when it comes to filtering through information and acting upon it decisively. However, these global partnerships would be futile unless we free our security establishments from political interference and corruption.

When I visited The Oberoi Trident Hotel with its general manager and the Union Home Minister shortly after the encounter was over, the scenes were horrifying. I don’t wish to divulge graphic details but I can assure you that it was clear that the terrorists weren’t interested in negotiating with the government. They were cold-blooded murderers. I was very pleased to shake the hands of the NSG commandos who had fought in the encounter.

All this leads to the point that while we, Mumbai’s educated middle-class, must make ourselves heard, we must also study facts before appearing in TV debates, otherwise succumbing to the anchor’s sensationalism. We love to criticise Lalu Prasad, Shivraj Patil, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena campaign, and speak liberally about how terrorism has no religion. Yet on election day, why do we vote for parties keeping our own religion in mind?

Immediately after a terrorist attack, we point fingers at a particular community or country, but when those from the ATS, who died fighting for us, pointed closer to home, why did we refuse to listen to them? While one politician states that India needs a strong national anti-terror law (which already exists), another leader asks each state government to cooperate with the central government in creating a national investigating agency along the lines of America’s FBI.

Do we formulate our opinions regarding which option will benefit India on facts or on uninformed chatter? Sadly, we have allowed religion and politics to enter the terrorism debate. As a result, expecting politicians to put aside their differences and work out a solution requires that we change our old ways. If we can’t get over our prejudices and spruce up our own intelligence before participating in the rumours and politics of terrorism, how can we expect it from the establishment?

Mumbai, like any great city, will confront and overcome many obstacles. Hopefully, before we look for places and people to point our fingers at, we will learn to play a more constructive role.

Milind Deora is a Member of the Lok Sabha. He represents the Mumbai South constituency

First Published: Nov 30, 2008 22:39 IST