Insecure nation, miserable times

Published: Nov 23, 2011, 08:25 IST | Ranjona Banerji |

This year will be the third anniversary of the November 26, 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai. The big issue, however, is not how much money the government spends on Ajmal Qasab

This year will be the third anniversary of the November 26, 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai. The big issue, however, is not how much money the government spends on Ajmal Qasab. The Qasab trial is one of the few things we can be proud of: compare it to the mess in Gujarat over fake encounter deaths and of course the 2002 riot cases. The biggest question is what has been done to try and secure India so that others like Qasab cannot get back?

The answer to that of course is practically nothing: big promises, smooth excuses but precious little action on the ground. Bullet-proof jackets for the police? You must be kidding. Boats to monitor the coastline? Don't make us laugh. Proper training area and accommodation for commandos? Where did you get the idea that was important? Police reforms? Don't even go there.

Cold comfort: Though the nation celebrated terrorist Qasab's death
sentence, he is still alive and kicking. Pic/Bipin Kokate

And so the list goes on. Maharashtra has had three chief ministers and a home minister who comes and goes since then. Also, more terrorist attacks about which the police and the government are clueless. The attack was not just on Mumbai, it was on India. It was audacious and contemptuous and lethal. The fact that Qasab was caught at all was because of the personal bravery of a few; not because we have a system that works. Those who want to see Qasab dead might remember that he is the only living proof we have of our neighbour's involvement in the attacks. Little wonder that Pakistan also wants Qasab dead. Qasab alive keeps the finger pointing at them.

Three years later and we're almost exactly where we were then. People get on with their lives because they have to and bogus claims about the spirit of Mumbai pop up now and then. The government moves on to its real purpose which is keeping builders and developers happy.

That's Maharashtra, where the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party are in power in the state and the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party have municipal power in the country's financial capital; for both, making money is paramount.

What about Gujarat, where everyday more and more evidence emerges about the campaign unleashed on Muslims and Christians by the state government? It's not just the political party in power - the BJP. It's the entire state system which has been mobilised and corrupted, seemingly. The few within who speak out -- police officers like RB Sreekumar or Sanjeev Bhatt -- are targeted ferociously. In Gujarat it's not just about money, it's about winning elections through the grand manipulation to magnify one man.

Ishrat Jahan, a student of Khalsa College Mumbai was killed in an "encounter" in 2004, under suspicion of being part of a conspiracy to assassinate Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Now a special investigative team says that the encounter was faked, or in plainer terms, Jehan was murdered by the Gujarat police to bolster the image of Modi as a terrorism-figher (or a Muslim-baiter).

What wonderful stories about two Indian states which are seen as doing better than the rest. One fumbles through terrorist attacks and the other invents them. There are different political parties in power in each but neither set fills you with confidence.

The BJP has decided to boycott Union home minister P Chidambaram in the winter session Parliament, to target his shortcomings. Is this the most nation-building method that our chief opposition party could come up with? Consistently stop legislation? If the UPA has been fiddling while India burns, so has the BJP.

So what to do then?  Go with the lesser of the two evils and choose corruption over communalism, knowing that the communalists are corrupt too? Push for the Anna Hazare option of the right to reject? Continue in despair? Drown my sorrows? Detachment, says my yoga teacher, but that's cold, cold comfort in these miserable times.

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist

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