The tragedy of terrorist attacks in India is that you can take a blog-post from three years ago, make a small change here and one change there, and it would seem like I just wrote it. Fresh and hot. That’s the thing. Nothing changes. Not a bit. The same bomb blasts, the same canned responses, the same floundering in the dark, the same impotent social media rage, the same sense of headless chicken-ness.
I saw one person splutter angrily on TV ” There was no police here before the blast. No security.”
Well in February I went to Gateway of India. Post 26/11 and to borrow a Shastrism “after the horse has bolted”, there was security there. A lot of it. Limited access. People in wardi. Metal detector. Only bug in the program—–people could walk around the metal-detector, without standing underneath it, and no one around seemed to be mildly concerned at this small fly in the security ointment.
Could better “security”, of the kind alluded to by the angry bystander, prevent such incidents? No. It is just not feasible to have eyes everywhere in the country, even if we consent to a Orwellian police state, eyes strong enough to detect every rigged umbrella or booby-trapped suitcase. Though of course one would like the administration to try a bit harder in gathering intelligence. Not that they can get it right every time but at least can we expect them to work as sincerely as they do while discharging their most important function—make sure there are no parties after twelve and girls and boys are not dancing “indecently”.
It is not so much what happens before but what happens post-blast, each and every time, that gets my goat. After 26/11 we were told that emergency response teams would be ready to roll at a moment’s notice. I presumed they meant ambulance. I presumed they meant trained personnel providing critical care immediately, the kind that can save lives. What we saw instead were injured people, festering in blood and tears thrown together like dying chickens in the back of a truck. Surely, with all that India-shining and everything, we can expect to have a decent emergency response system in place for Mumbai, the highest priority target for our enemies, if not for the entire country? It’s not as if premium emergency services are not available. If one of our politicians gets so much as a hangnail, ambulances rush in, red lights flash and the Red Sea parts. But people, common people, well that’s another thing.
There is more. After 26/11 we were also told that the press would be kept away from the scenes of terrorist incidents. What did we find this time? The same old vultures swooping down. Mind you I do not blame them. They are out to make money errr sorry inform the public. The responsibility to cordon off blast sites lies with the police and the police’s alone. And why is this so critical?
The main aim of terrorists, as their name helpfully suggests, is to create terror. And nothing serves that aim better than the Blair-Witch-Project style shaky images of bloodied bodies and weeping innocents that are being beamed to every home, accompanied as they are by the hyperventilating “on-the-ground-breaking-news” voice that exists to prevent us from flipping channels.
The second reason why a large perimeter needs to be enforced is that pressmen and the assembled tamasha-watchers contaminate the crime scene. This happens always and every time comes to bite the justice system in the bum. Suspects walk free because of lack of physical evidence, providing the opportunity for the Arundhati-Setalvad dementors to fly in and scream “minority victimization” and, of course, for He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named to say it is an RSS conspiracy (it may be argued he will do it regardless of what happens).
One would also have expected that after so many feet-in-the-mouths before, there would be just one official spokesman for the administration. Nope. The whole apparatus, on crisis night, was leaking like a sieve with one talking head finding the hand of Indian Mujahideen and the other saying everything is pre-mature. And why is this multi-speak bad, more specially the pinning of blame on Indian Mujahideen? Because within two hours of the blast, one cannot say, with any certainty, who has done the deed. So taking names so soon just gives ammo to our detractors in pushing forward the hypothesis that it is the Indian government/Hindu-Zionists/RSS which did this to tarnish Pakistan/Muslims.
And finally, yet once again, when the nation bled, we found out we had no Prime Minister. No one expects the PM to come and give a Sunny Deolian “Kasam Ganga Maiyya ki ,ghar mein ghuskar maroonga” shout-out but is it too much to expect a bit of inspiration in a dark hour, something even George W could provide after 9/11? Some may say silence is MMS’s style (like it was for Charlie Chaplin even after the technology of sound came into being) and should not be taken for inaction (ahem ahem) but surely there must have been reasons why when their nations were attacked, two of the greatest leaders of the last century, Roosevelt and Churchill did not take such a “awaaz neeche” stance.
If there was any silver lining, it was to see how ordinary people came together on Twitter—-doctors volunteered services, houses were opened for strangers, and those stranded were picked up. It was inspiring and a reminder that on the darkest of nights, the light inside us burns the brightest.
But this realization, in itself, is small solace. Very small solace.