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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Let's Take India Back

Enough of the Moffusil Madness

Sabina was a dear friend. She lived a large and full life until she died in the terrorist attack at the Taj in Bombay. She may have survived if the authorities had responded promptly. But Indian politicians and bureaucracy are a dysfunctional stew of mediocrity and incompetence. She never had a chance. It took the commandos of the elite National Security Group ten hours to get to Bombay and the state police forces that can’t even deal with the thugs of the various fascist senas were completely unequal to the task. The three top officials of the state’s anti terrorist squad were gunned down in a single attack. We were left with the sorry spectacle of pot-bellied cops armed with World War Two vintage 303 rifles trying to deal with terrorists equipped with modern weapons.

Then there’s my friend Lawrence Ferrao, a Jesuit priest, who heads the Xavier Institute of Communications, located on a campus that houses our alma mater, St Xavier’s High School and St Xavier’s College. He wrote an account, “An Eyewitness to Terror,” in which he described seeing two terrorists run past the campus to a nearby hospital and their killing spree. “Within our college stone walls, surrounded by hours of bloody violence, someone surely was watching over us. That same someone is now prodding us to work harder…to bring about change; to make a difference in our beloved India,” he wrote. For sure it wasn’t the Maharashtra govern-ment and its corrupt and inept police forces!

I also heard from Schubert Vaz, a pianist who played in the lobby of the Oberoi. He was saved and he believes it is a miracle. “Bombay suffers from two kinds of terrorists: the terrorists who come from outside the country and our political terrorists within the country. Our problems started with the Rath Yatra (conducted by Lal Krishna Advani) and the destruction of Babri Masjid. We are Indians; it does not matter whether we are Hindus, Christians, Muslims or Sikhs,” he wrote. He was cowering inside the hotel’s computer backup room while Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi, was outside, swaggering in front of television cameras, trying to score cheap political point at a time of national distress.

Meanwhile the thugs of the various senas, who terrorize the city with sporadic violence, were nowhere to be seen. They are back now, intimidating lawyers who seek to represent the sole captured terrorist. As such, they are militating against the finest traditions of our constitutional de-democracy. They are a reminder of the soft state with its weak-kneed politicians and venal bureaucrats, who run our seriously flawed system of gov-governance.

Even after three weeks, the political class is still unmindful of the distress of citizens. The Congress Party dithered over the replacement of the ineffectual Vilas Deshmukh and is now tying itself up in knots on how to deal with the “senior” leader from Maharashtra, A R Antulay, who suggested that the state’s top anti-terror official may have been killed by Hindu nationalists. For its part, the BJP fumbled on support of the bill creating the National Intelligence Agency until the redoubtable Arun Jaitley got into the act. The incorrigible Left shot itself in the foot again when its suave ideologue Sitaram Yechury foolishly said the Bombay events were a re-sult of the Indo-US nuclear deal

Meanwhile, unfocused citizen anger can easily be diverted. Indeed this is beginning to happen as the media and the privilegentsia are now pushing for a military conflict with Pakistan. That way questions about governance and calls for reform of the system are averted. Indeed, public anger needs to have a focus. To start with, let us ask that our heritage be liberated from the moffusil clutches of government. Politicians, bureaucrats and the media buy into populism while ignoring substantive issues of pol-icy. They have been quick to propose and accept, for example, the change of place names. Starting with Bombay, they have changed other names including: Victoria Terminus, Flora Fountain, Crawford Market, Queen’s Road and a hundred others. This supposedly is their notion of national-ism: tilting at colonial windmills.

Bombay has a history that predates the Shiv Sena, the BJP and even the Congress. When they changed the name of the city, its main railway sta-tion, its airport, its major roads and its many public institutions: the roads still remain pathetic; the airport is still a mess and the railway stations still chaotic. It’s time to challenge the chauvinists, who have terrorized Bombay.

Bombay’s slide started with the rise of moffusil populists in the 1950s. The Samayukta Maharashtra Samiti, precursor of the Shiv Sena, forced the division of the erstwhile Bombay state into Maharashtra and Gujarat. That‘s when the rule of thugs took over the city.

The terror attacks won’t change any political equations. No party cares about human lives. Don’t expect any serious efforts to reform governance. They would rather have a confrontation the failed state of Pakistan than change things internally. The only way to hit them, Congress, BJP, or Shiv Sena, is to strike at the roots of their populism. Let’s demand that the city be called Bombay again and the railway station and airports re-vert to their old, authentic names. It’s a seemingly small but symbolic first step that will upset their diversionary applecart that seems headed straight into a fourth war with Pakistan.

copyright rajiv desai december 2008