In all this clutter and cacophony on the telly over the Mumbai terror attacks, some images refuse to go away. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra walking in to cast her vote, saying that her grandmother would have handled things differently – ‘Indiraji hoti to woh stithi se apne tarike se nipat ti’. A vote yes, but of no confidence against the Government headed by her mother? Ratan Tata telling Fareed Zakaria on CNN that the Taj had prior warning of a terrorist attack. And nothing was done about fortifying the hotel? Admiral Suresh Mehta of the Indian Navy castigating reporters of CNN IBN and Headlines Today for breaking embargos. Further, he also gave details of a NDTV lady reporter’s coverage of the Kargil War at the same press meet. Images of the horrific events in Mumbai will take some time to be washed away from the corridors of our minds.
But the aforesaid images will remain indelibly printed in the mind’s eye. There is another unalterable image which will remain imprinted. And this is the most alarming thing for the nation’s polity. The sheer scope of public indignation. People are furious. There is anger, no I think the word is ‘aakrosh’ and a lot of it came through on the telly. The absence of a government is what has scared the hoi polloi. My friend Suhel Seth’s stirring speeches were probably an embodiment of all that is wrong with Indian polity. Then there was the counterview from Arun Shourie, who lambasted Vikram Chandra - you damn media, don’t preach to us from the pulpit, don’t hound policemen when they earn the sobriquet of ‘encounter specialists’, don’t drag them to court, he went on. He then cited the case of KPS Gill’s police posse, which stamped out terrorism in Punjab. Some of them are living in penury, others are fighting court cases.
The age of innocence is over. India is restive. There is a vacuum of leadership and nature abhors a vacuum. People are scared, but more than that there is angst, they want to vent their spleen on someone. That someone is India’s inept politicians. What India witnessed in Kargil has repeated itself in Mumbai circa 2008. It was ineptitude then and it is ineptitude now. We were blindsided yet again. What is perhaps most galling is that our response time is getting slower. At Kargil, it was our soldiers who saved the bacon, in Mumbai once again it was our soldiers who did us proud, despite the best efforts of our administrators to impede them. Nine hours is what it took NSG commandos to get to Mumbai from Delhi. All this after several intelligence warnings, as Vir Sanghvi wrote in his front paged stories plastered across HT, Mint and Hindustan.
Anger has resulted in shame. But not for our politicos. Vilasrao Deshmukh, VS Achutanandan, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi made a mockery of the gravity and magnitude of the dark and grave situation in Mumbai. India was under siege. Indian television has to do a crash course in its reporting drills and skills. The ones who have been around the longest – NDTV and Aaj Tak – were the worst. How do you cover a conflagration of this kind? Yes, you offer a peeping tom view, but one needs to do it with dignity, respecting the lives of the soldiers and the people trapped inside at all times. Times Now once again showed its maturity - Rahul Shivshankar and Maroof whilst reporting and Arnab Goswami solid as a rock in the studio. Though he, too, found himself tongue tied when a Pakistani went for his jugular on one of the shows, even as Vinod Sharma and Dileep Padgaonkar waffled.
CNN showed yet again how it has covered the troublespots all over the world. BBC too, but CNN converted this adversity into an opportunity led from the frontline by Andrew Stevens – two practical bytes from former spy Vikram Sood and Uday Bhaskar standing out. The Hindi channels were like runaway bikers, shoot and scoot, they went into a shrill overdrive. But the feisty Zee has found a new rival in India TV, and though one can argue that the latter went over the top every once in a while, they were far better than the rest of the competitive pack.
So, what would Indiraji have done? Remember that this lady created a nation out of Pakistan in 1971, took 97,000 prisoners of war, gobbled up Sikkim without so much as a bye your leave, detonated a nuclear device as far back as 1975, sent the army to battle Bhindaranwale at the Golden temple Complex in 1984 and was generally tough as nails. She would give no quarter, nor ask for one. She had President Nixon on the backfoot in 1971. Yes, Priyanka is right, she would have offered a riposte that would have shaken the foundations of terror sponsoring Pakistan. All we hear now is Pranab Mukherjee claiming that India will offer a fitting response and that the Government will not fail the people. I am not a hawk. Nobody wants war, but an attack with such imputiny and derring do cannot be tolerated. A weak0kneed response like asking Pakistan to hand over 20 terror suspects will not wash. No, the mood of indignant India will not be whetted.
Many Kashmiris have said that they are used to such fidayeen attacks in the Valley, and the rest of India is revolted now because their pride – Mumbai – has been ravaged. Point taken, after all Kashmir is an integral part of India and we are waging war against terror now for 19 years. Similarly, Mumbai cannot be left to the mercy of fidayeen. We need our body politic to upgrade weaponry, equipment, technology and what have you post haste so that we can tackle this menace. The terror network is here and it is going to stay.
Look at the reaction in Jerusalem over the cold blooded murder of the Rabbi couple. Thousands of people thronged the funeral. It is clear that there will be reprisals. Israel does not take such things lying down. And if one has seen the film ‘Munich’, one will understand the psyche of Israelis. They will not relent till they hunt down the masterminds behind the Mumbai attacks. For Nariman House or Chabbad House was in the line of fire only because it housed Jews.
As gunfire began being reported by our TV channels, there were flashes saying that it was gangland rivary, there was also something about Nigerians taking potshots at one another over some sort of turf battle in Mumbai’s Colaba Causeway. It was all a load of crock. Intelligence did not merely fail our politicians, it also failed our hot shot, fat cat television editors and reporters. Time to show some restraint. Time to ease up on the rat pack syndrome. Remember that the world was watching, as were people trapped in the rooms of the hotels and Nariman House.
At the same time, how can we expect our poor hapless policemen with lathis and antiquated 303s to battle with these armed and deadly dangerous, devil may care terrorists. For as Vice Admiral Bedi said in the first flush of the attack, “We are dealing with trained commandos, who have meticulously planned this entire episode”.
Name calling and the blame game drama will continue for days. Some people need to take a fall for this. India’s intelligence apparatus needs overhauling. The bile is rising against our politicians. I have never seen such anger, nor have I seen so many people airing their views slamming our politicians so frankly. These are dangerous times that we live in. For God’s sake, television owners please ask your chappies to show some sobriety. It is time for a reality check. Clear the fog. Descend to Ground Zero.