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Keep up the spirit to fight

By Shashi Tharoor

(Courtesy of Shashi Tharoor, originally published in Times of India)

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There is a savage irony to the fact that the horror in Mumbai began with terrorists docking near the Gateway of India. The magnificent arch,

built in 1911 to welcome the King-Emperor George V, has ever since stood as a symbol of the openness of the city. Crowds flock around it, made up of foreign tourists and local yokels; touts hawk their wares; boats bob in the waters, offering cruises out to the open sea.

The teeming throngs around it daily reflect India’s diversity, with Parsi gentlemen out for their evening constitutionals, Muslim women in burqas taking the sea air, Goan Catholic waiters enjoying a break from their duties at the stately Taj Mahal Hotel, Hindus from every corner of the country chatting in a multitude of tongues. Today, ringed by police barricades, the Gateway of India — the gateway to India, and to India’s soul — is barred, mute testimony to the latest assault on the country’s pluralist democracy.

The terrorists, who heaved their bags laden with weapons up the steps of the wharf to begin their assault on the Taj, like their cohorts at a dozen other locations around the city, knew exactly what they were doing. Theirs was an attack on India’s financial nerve-centre and commercial capital, a city emblematic of the country’s energetic thrust into the 21st century. They struck at symbols of the prosperity that was making the Indian model so attractive to the globalising world — luxury hotels, a swish cafe, an apartment house favoured by foreigners. The terrorists also sought to polarise Indian society by claiming to be acting to redress the grievances, real and imagined, of India’s Muslims. And by singling out Britons, Americans and Israelis for special attention, they demonstrated that their brand of Islamist fanaticism is anchored less in the absolutism of pure faith than in the geopolitics of hate.

Today, the platitudes flow like blood. Terrorism is unacceptable; the terrorists are cowards; the world stands united in unreserved condemnation of this latest atrocity. Commentators in America trip over themselves to pronounce this night and day of carnage India’s 9/11. But India has endured many attempted 9/11s, notably a ferocious assault on its national Parliament in December 2001 that nearly led to an all-out war against the assailants’ presumed sponsors, Pakistan. This year alone, terrorist bombs have taken lives in Jaipur, in Ahmedabad, in Delhi and (in an eerie dress-rehearsal for the effectiveness of synchronicity) several different places on one searing day in the state of Assam. Jaipur is the lodestar of Indian tourism to Rajasthan; Ahmedabad is the primary city of Gujarat, the state that is a poster child for India’s development, with a local GDP growth rate of 14%; Delhi is the nation’s political capital and India’s window to the world; Assam was logistically convenient for terrorists from across a porous border. Mumbai combined all the four elements of its precursors: by attacking it, the terrorists hit India’s economy, its tourism, and its internationalism, and they took advantage of the city’s openness to the world. A grand slam.

Indians have learned to endure the unspeakable horrors of terrorist violence ever since malign men in Pakistan concluded it was cheaper and more effective to bleed India to death than to attempt to defeat it in conventional war. Attack after attack has proven to have been financed, equipped and guided from across the border, the most recent being the suicide-bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul, an action publicly traced by American intelligence to Islamabad’s dreaded military special-ops agency, the ISI. The risible attempt to claim ‘credit’ for the Mumbai killings in the name of the ‘Deccan Mujahideen’ merely confirms that wherever the killers are from, it is not the Deccan. The Deccan lies inland from Mumbai; one does not need to sail the waters of the Arabian Sea to the Gateway of India to get to the city from there. In its meticulous planning, sophisticated co-ordination and military precision, as well as its choice of targets, the assault on Mumbai bore no trace of what its promoters tried to suggest it was — a spontaneous eruption by angry young Indian Muslims. This horror was not homegrown.

The Islamist extremism nurtured by a succession of military rulers of Pakistan has now come to haunt its well-intentioned but lamentably weak elected civilian government. The bombing of Islamabad’s Marriott Hotel proved that Frankenstein’s monster is now well and truly out of that government’s control. The militancy once sponsored by its predecessors now threatens to abort Pakistan’s sputtering democracy and seeks to engulf India in its flames. There has never been a stronger case for firm and united action by the governments of both India and Pakistan to cauterise the cancer in their midst.

Inevitably, the questions have begun to be asked: ‘‘Is it all over for India? Can the country ever recover from this?’’

Of course the answers are no and yes, but outsiders cannot be blamed for asking existential questions about a nation that so recently had been seen as poised for take-off. India can recover from the physical assaults against it. It is a land of great resilience that has learned, over arduous millennia, to cope with tragedy. Within 24 hours of an earlier Islamist assault on Mumbai, the stock exchange bombing in 1993, Bombay’s traders were back on the floor, their burned-out computers forgotten, doing what they used to before technology had changed their trading styles. Bombs and bullets alone cannot destroy India, because Indians will pick their way through the rubble and carry on as they have done throughout history.

But what can destroy India is a change in the spirit of its people, away from the pluralism and co-existence that has been our greatest strength. The prime minister’s call for calm and restraint in the face of this murderous rampage is vital. If these tragic events lead to the demonisation of the Muslims of India, the terrorists will have won. For India to be India, its gateway — to the multiple Indias within, and the heaving seas without — must always remain open.

Chairman of Dubai-based Afras Ventures and former Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Dr. Shashi Tharoor was the official candidate of India for the succession to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2006, and came a close second out of seven contenders in the race. His career began in 1978, when he joined the staff of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva, and included key responsibilities in peace-keeping after the Cold War and as a senior adviser to the Secretary-General, as well as the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information.

Dr. Tharoor is also the award-winning author of nine books, as well as hundreds of articles, op-eds and book reviews in a wide range of publications, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the International Herald Tribune, Time, Newsweek and The Times of India. He has served for two years as a Contributing Editor and occasional columnist for Newsweek International. Since April 2001 he has authored a fortnightly column in The Hindu and since January 2007 in The Times of India.

Actor Aamir Khan Shares
Thoughts on the Mumbai attacks


Have been watching television and to see various locations in Mumbai turned into a war zone is shocking and heart breaking to say the least.

My heartfelt condolences to the families of persons killed and taken hostage. I was feeling sick in the stomach when the fire broke out at the Taj. What would the people caught inside be going through. The fire fighters were doing their best but my imagination was running wild and I was feeling helpless watching other people trapped in the rooms adjoining the fire.

My heartfelt condolences to the family of the brave officers of the Mumbai Police who lost their lives leading from the front to take on these terrorists. Especially Hemant Karkare of the ATS, who in the recent past was being targeted by various political parties for the work that he was doing. When will these politicians realize and admit that terrorists HAVE NO RELIGION. Terrorists are not Hindu or Muslim or Christian. They are not people of religion or God. They are people who have gone totally sick in their head and have to be dealt with in that manner. Hemant Karkare is an example of a brave officer who gave his life in the line of duty.

If it had just been a matter of simply fighting the terrorists the security forces would have dealt with it sooner, but here of course the situation was extremely complicated with many innocent lives at stake. The fact that the locations are huge hotels with multiple floors, hundreds of rooms, many corridors, staff quarters, work spaces, entries, exits etc, and had innocent guests still in there, made the task very difficult and delicate.

I dread to think of how various political parties are now going to try and use this tragedy to further their political careers. At least now they should learn to not divide people and instead become responsible leaders. An incident such as this really exposes how ill-equipped we are as a society as far as proper leaders go. We desperately need young, dynamic, honest, intelligent and upright leaders, who actually care for the country.

As I had expected various politicians have tried to use this traumatic and tragic attack to their advantage. I only hope that people see through them this time.

Quite clearly both the major political parties have failed to tackle terrorism. There have been repeated attacks on us during both their reigns which neither has been able to either anticipate or deal with well. While what happened in Mumbai recently clearly exposes the incompetence of the Congress, the hijacking of the Indian Airlines flight 814 during the BJP rule shows them in even worse light. They actually NEGOTIATED with the terrorists and RELEASED 3 dreaded terrorists from Indian jails. All the 5 hijackers and the 3 terrorists released from India by the then BJP government were allowed to escape to attack us another day.

I think the first lesson to learn from this is that we MUST NOT NEGOTIATE. No matter what, the next time round around, and lets not fool ourselves we must be alert and prepared for more attacks, we MUST NOT NEGOTIATE. All potential terrorists must get a very clear message that INDIA DOES NOT NEGOTIATE WITH TERRORISTS. What that means is, that in the future if there is a situation where me or my kids are held hostage by a bunch of terrorists then I must be prepared to tell our government - to hell with me and my children just go in there and kill the terrorists. I am prepared to sacrifice myself and my loved ones for the larger safety and security of the country but DO NOT LISTEN TO AND NEGOTIATE WITH TERRORISTS.

I personally hold both these political parties, and in fact other regional political parties across the country, responsible in one way or the other, for fueling terrorism in the first place. And please remember that the definition of terrorism is not restricted to AK 47 toting maniacs. It includes the spread of terror by other means like stone throwing, beating up of innocent people on the roads, and rioting, etc. Any means, in fact, to spread terror in the hearts of ordinary citizens.

The other important thing we need to remind ourselves in this time of anger and hurt is to stay calm and take sensible steps, and not give in to thoughtless knee jerk reactions. I heard someone say on television that we should all stop paying our taxes as a show of protest. Haven’t heard of a more silly idea than that. If we stop paying our taxes then we won’t have an army and NSG to save us next time around!!! Instead we should all START PAYING OUR TAXES. We demand so much of our leaders but are we fulfilling our basic responsibility? Can we say with honesty that as citizens of our country we are all honestly paying our taxes? If we are not paying our taxes can we blame the government for being inefficient? If we are corrupt then how can we expect our politicians to be honest?

I have a very important thing to say to all the various people going around arbitrarily throwing accusations at the politicians. These politicians are not from Jupiter or Mars, they are one of us, from our very own society, selected by us through a democratic process. So now think for a moment, who really is to blame? We can only blame ourselves guys. Half of us don’t go to vote. The half that does vote has selected these guys.

In my opinion, you really want to change things? Change yourself. Each one of us needs to take a very honest look inwards and rectify and work on what we think is wrong with us. If each one of us does that individually then there will be a sea change in our society at large. I have to promise myself that I will not be corrupt, will play my role in society with honesty and sincerity. Doctors, lawyers, judges, people in the IAS, police force, media persons, businessmen, job workers, labour force, everyone. We have to stop thinking of our own individual gain and loss and do what is honest, true and right, and think collective. It calls for personal sacrifice in this time of chaos but from chaos will emerge clarity. Even if we don’t manage to achieve this for ourselves we will achieve it for our children.

What I would really like to see emerge from all this is the youth of this country starting a political party. A group that stands for strong, clean, honest and fresh leadership. A group that we can all support.

And finally, if we really want to make sure that terrorists fail in achieving their end, then these terror attacks should not take us towards hate but instead towards love. If we react with hate we are succumbing to these terror attacks, and if we react with increasing love and peace in our hearts then we squarely defeat the terrorists. Allowing love, peace and trust to grow within us is not a sign of weakness but a sign of immense strength.

With appreciation and gratitude to the security forces who acted with courage, and with a prayer in my heart for those departed.

Jai Hind

Reprinted with permission from Aamir Khan. Kavita also wishes to thank  Mahesh Patel and Binky Mendez for the help extended in making this possible.

Talk Is Cheap, Lives Are Not

By Milind Deora

(Courtesy of Milind Deora, originally published in Hindustan Times)

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 (born 4 Dec 1976) is a Member of the 14th Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament, from the Mumbai South constituency. He is the son of veteran politician Murli Deora, who was a Member of Parliament for the same constituency between 1984 and 1996, and once again in 1998 in the 12th Lok Sabha. Milind Deora is an alumnus of Cathedral and John Connon School, Sydenham College and Boston University in the United States.

Milind Deora is one of the youngest members of the current Lok Sabha.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these columns are solely those of the writers and do not necessarily represent those of the editor/publisher.

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