Mumbai Tarnished

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 11:13 PM in , , , ,

So much has been said about the Mumbai attacks and its aftermath that it seems almost blasphemous to not write something to that effect on Reflections. For the uninitiated, here’s a quick recap of the events that have now gripped the attention of the entire nation:

On the 26th of November, what started off as stray incidents of firing at Café Leopolds and VT Station (which the media misunderstood as a gang war), soon boiled over to a full fledged fidayeen attack on a city that we best know as the entertainment and commercial capital of the country. Mumbai was under attack again and the targets this time were the elite sitting pretty in high-end hotels namely the heritage Taj Mahal and Oberoi on Nariman Point. To hurt religious sentiments, Nariman House (a Jewish outreach centre in Colaba) was also carefully selected to be included in the list of fire. The perpetrator was Lashkar-e-Taiba/Jamaat-ud-Dawah and the modus operandi was to send a bunch of fidayeens to India through the sea route whose motive was to cause maximum damage before dying in the name of Jihaad. Once the siege ended some 60 hours after the attacks started, 173 were rendered dead and over 300 injured. The list of deceased included some influential names like Hemant Karkare (chief of Mumbai ATS), Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan and Sabina Sehgal (consulting editor, Times of India). Mohammed Kasab was the only one out of ten terrorists to be caught alive and his roots were traced back to a small village in Pakistan. The incident elicited some relevant (and some not so relevant) comments from politicians in India and condemnation from across the world.
Who is AR Antulay and why he must resign
Abdul Rahaman Antulay is the 79 year old Minister of Minority Affairs, ex-chief minister for Maharashtra in the eighties, who demanded an investigation into the death of Mumbai Action Task Force chief Hemant Karkare. He questioned why an ‘intelligent, awe-inspiring’ officer like him agreed to get into a van with two of his colleagues (Ashok Kamata and Vijay Salsarkar), which is against the protocol, and proceed to a seemingly peaceful spot like Cama Hospital instead of the theatres of action like Taj and Oberoi Hotels. The ill-timed burst of inquisition has invited criticism from most quarters and now has the opposition demanding a resignation from Mr. Antulay for his irresponsible remark.

Now why is the remark ill-timed? For one, it comes at a time when India is trying to pin down Pakistan as the breeding-ground for these attacks. While Zardari must be trying his best to camouflage the civilian lack of control over the ISI by branding the terrorists as ‘non-state actors’, India was doing a good job of collecting evidence for authenticating its own assertions. Ex-PM Nawaz Sharif seemed to be playing ball too. Antulay’s remarks at a crucial time like this gave Pakistan the leeway to spin the arrow in our direction and blame India for not being serious about its crackdown on terrorism. A Pakistan Nation’s editorial blamed India of not trying to establish the truth behind the carnage by refusing to share the investigation evidences with Pakistan. It obviously also questioned the raised eyebrows on Karkare’s death. Clearly Antulay’s remarks were exploited by the Pakistani media to blunt India’s edge in the investigations.

Next, his remarks seemed to add another bead in the string of vote-bank politics that our leaders occasionally play. With the proposed insinuation that due to his involvement in the Malegaon Blasts, Karkare probably fell to a contrivance drawn by the Hindu right wing activists.. Antulay tried to generate himself some political capital within the Congress. In an attempt to build a political constituency for himself he, in a way, tried to divide the nation.

It also, to a certain extent, led to the weakening of the position of our liberal Muslim. Despite being a secular Indian, Antulay seems to have succumbed to the old web of conspiracy theories. The embarrassment that his utterance has caused to the country is reason enough for the Prime Minister to pass his resignation. The Congress, alas, is in a dilemma because firing him will cause them to lose a major chunk of their Muslim vote. Such is the tragedy of Indian politics. Icing on the cake is a regretless Antulay making regular television appearances and emphasizing that he is still ‘proud of his statement’.
Why Kasab should get a lawyer
Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab is the lone captured terrorist that carried out the Mumbai attacks. Now due to the availability of ample evidence and camera footage proving his crime, no lawyer wants to take up his case with the fear of losing it instantaneously. The few like Ashok Sarogi, Mahesh Deshmukh or KBM Lam who did come forward to take up his defense were scared away and had their homes vandalized by the Shiv Sena. In such circumstances, even the Legal Aid Panel has refused to defend him.

The argument that every accused is entitled to legal defense is an old one. Article 39-A of the constitution mandates equal justice and legal aid to all. Notwithstanding Ram Jethmalani’s statement that “even a hundered jethmalani’s can’t defend him”, we fail to realize that the sooner Kasab gets a lawyer, the sooner he will get convicted. A conviction without trial is invalid and for a speedy punishment for Kasab, a trial in the court to prove his guilt is mandatory. In an open-and-shut case like this, the only question that remains is… who will come forward to defend the indefensible?
How the response to this terror strike has been different from the previous attacks
First I take the liberty of elaborating on the measures we took to safeguard our security after terror hit Mumbai. Shivraj Patil, the then home minister, was forced to resign due to inaction. Next came RR Patil for dismissing the incident as “a small thing common in big cities”. Vilas Rao Deshmukh filed his resignation next after accusations of repeated inactivity and bringing his son and producer-director Ram Gopal Verma for a tour of the Taj after the carnage. P Chidambaram was given the portfolio of the home ministry while Manmohan himself took over the finance ministry. Such a major rejig in the higher echelons of leadership showed that the government was finally serious about tackling terrorism. Measures that should have been initiated much earlier.

Next, the JuD was declared an illegal organization across the world and all their bank accounts were freezed. Pakistan had to stay in sync with everyone and (forcefully) ban the JuD on its soil too. Least to say, it lead to a furor. Along with these positive measures, some other developments worked to India’s favor. Secretary of state Condolezze Rice on her visit to the subcontinent warned Pakistan that lest it took some serious measures against terrorism propagating from its territory, it would get no support whatsoever from the US in any future endeavors. Other top officials from the United States, like Joint Chief of Staff chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, and some major countries seemed to recognize that Pakistani military camps were wreaking havoc on its neighbor and the issue had to be nipped.

The more our media publicizes the issue, the stronger the voices of dissent grow against Pakistan. Tough times call for tough measures and the time has come when the world woke up to the threat the ISI poses to global security. With each passing day, the pressure is increasing from the global community on our neighbor to find us the terrorists that made Mumbai happen. After the UN, the latest reports inform us of a meeting between the Interpol and Chidambaram to tackle the menace. What sets apart these attacks from the previous ones is the fact that Pakistan is witnessing a never-felt-before anger from India. Our proactive external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee went to the extent of saying that the country was not ruling out military action against Pakistan if it failed to act effectively this time around. For once, our politicians seem to be echoing the common sentiment that being silent, tolerant spectators won’t work.

The media seems to be making up for its irresponsible coverage during the carnage by not letting go of the issue this time. The amnesia that followed every attack in the past seems to have weaned out. The Mumbai story follow-up is the headline even almost a month after it happened. Talk shows, editorials and debates are still steamy about who should be held accountable. In a way, the fraternity is seeking an apology for all the blunders it committed while covering the 60-hour onslaught.

The uproar probably stems from the fact that the ambit of victims this time included even foreign nationals and the rich. And that the siege continued for much longer than it should have. Candle-light marches and peace protests staged by the citizens show that the ‘chalta hai’ attitude is passĂ©. When terror comes so precariously close, we realize that the ‘it-could-never-happen-to-me’ syndrome is a thing of the past. Today it’s all about ensuring ones own safety. The stability of our neighbor scales high on our list of priorities to sustain our own interests. The sooner Pakistan realizes that its civilian government has no direct control on the army and ISI, the better it would be for them and for us. Because while denial leads to misconceptions… it is only acceptance that eventually leads to course-correction. And course-correction is what Pakistan desperately needs right now.

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