Was PM asleep as terror struck?
There’s something obnoxious about the anchors of 24x7 news channels, headquartered in Delhi, that makes you feel nauseated and infuriated at once. Apart from pretending to know all and being disdainful of those with a contrarian (and substantive) point of view, they also try to impose their tuppence worth of opinion and vacuous concern on viewers. This point was reconfirmed by a 20-something anchor late Friday afternoon when I switched on the television set in my office to catch the news on the serial bombings in Bangalore. The channel had managed to get Ms Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, who heads Biocon and has played an admirable role in helping India’s biotechnology sector acquire an international profile, to comment on the bombings. Ms Mazumdar-Shaw was expressing her disquiet, and justifiably so, over the terrorist strike and how it would have an adverse effect on the residents of Bangalore who were bound to feel unnerved and insecure.
At this point the anchor barged in: “Don’t you think it will affect foreign investors? Won’t they flee Bangalore? What will happen to all the investments they have made?” That’s not the issue, Ms Mazumdar-Shaw tried to explain, but was cut short. “What about the foreign investors? What about their investments?” the anchor kept on repeating these two questions, imitating Long John Silver’s irrepressible parrot. Look, we need not worry about investors right now, said Ms Mazumdar-Shaw (did I detect just a hint of irritation in her voice?), adding, what’s more important is the security of the people; we should worry about whether people feel secure. But the security of the people of Bangalore — or, for that matter, any other part of the country — was of no interest to the anchor and possibly of even less importance to the channel. So, the anchor piped up, “Thank you for joining us. That was Ms Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw telling us how the serial blasts will affect foreign investments and investors.” Or words to that effect. I reached for the remote control.
It would, however, be unfair to blame either the anchor or the 24x7 news channels for such callous disregard for the fearsome consequences of terrorist attacks which, as Ms Mazumdar-Shaw pointed out, leave people shaken and shattered, both metaphorically and literally. If television channels are eager to shift attention from serious and real issues related to internal security to frivolous and bogus issues of ‘investor confidence’, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is desperate to ensure that ‘distractions’ such as serial bombings and loss of innocent lives do not prompt questions about the willingness of the Government he heads to combat terrorism. Just how unwilling the Government is to curb and contain terrorism can be gauged from the fact that Mr Singh is prone to losing sleep over the plight of terrorists and rewarding their families if they are killed by security forces which, he believes, violate human rights every time they despatch a jihadi to jannat where houris wait with open arms. It is, therefore, not surprising that Mr Singh should accuse BJP leader LK Advani of “sleeping” on his job as Home Minister in the NDA Government even as the barbarians ran amok, causing death and destruction.
There’s a problem, though, with Mr Singh’s assertion. A tally of human lives lost in Islamist terrorist attacks outside Jammu & Kashmir after he became Prime Minister (with Mr Shivraj Patil, who thinks Mohammed Afzal is a lad gone astray and deserves no more than a rap on his knuckles, as his Home Minister) will show that 570 people have died till now, most of them in serial bombings. Many more have been maimed and scarred for the rest of their lives. During the six years when the NDA was in power, and Mr Advani was Home Minister, the corresponding figure was 237. Even the most rudimentary knowledge of arithmetic, as compared to the awesome intellectual prowess of an economist who has served the World Bank, would suggest that terrorist slayings during the NDA years were far less than those during Mr Singh’s watch. If we were to add the number of people killed by Maoists, terrorists in Jammu & Kashmir and separatists in the North-East, the total would touch 15,000. With a strike rate of 3,750 lives lost to terrorism of various shades every year, the UPA Government’s record is nothing to sneer at.
Meanwhile, within hours of the serial bombings in Bangalore, which coincided with — as PTI and UNI, mindful of the Press Commission’s guidelines, would report in the 1980s — ‘members of a certain community coming out of their places of worship after Friday noon prayers’, the Intelligence Bureau had put out, with the help of obliging journalists, how it had warned the Government of Karnataka about an impending terrorist attack. Minister of State for Home Affairs Sriprakash Jaiswal reiterated this point when he told mediapersons, “The Intelligence Bureau had received inputs that terrorists could target the cybercities of Hyderabad and Bangalore. Both the State Governments were told to be on high alert.” Alas, nobody in Bangalore paid any attention to the IB’s ‘inputs’.
And for good reasons, too. It remains an abiding mystery as to how much of the ‘inputs’ provided by IB is actually based on actionable and credible intelligence; it is equally opaque as to how pin-pointed this information is. To alert the Government of Karnataka about a possible terrorist strike in Bangalore means nothing: Anybody with any intelligence can figure out that given the city’s high profile, terrorists would be tempted to attack it, if only for the assured media coverage beyond India’s shores. Nor does it take an exceptionally bright mind to figure out that serial bombings like those in Bangalore or in Ahmedabad late Saturday are meant to “spread terror”, as Mr Jaiswal has sought to enlighten us. Since imitation is the best form of flattery, Mr Jaiswal is no doubt keen to emulate the Prime Minister and accuse the BJP Government of ‘sleeping’ while terrorists go about committing their deed.
But should we blame State Governments for ‘failing’ to act on intelligence ‘inputs’ that are often shockingly vague and criminally inadequate? Are we to believe that the intelligence apparatus, which has been harnessed for achieving political objectives like winning confidence votes in Parliament, is collating and processing real time ‘inputs’?
If the IB had been doing its job then we would not have had to agonise over whether the next bomb will go off somewhere close to us or our children. Ah well, we can lose sleep over the creeping threat of terrorism. But I doubt if the Prime Minister is staying up nights so that he can’t be accused of sleeping on his watch, an accusation that Mr Singh has hurled so effortlessly at Mr Advani.
Coffee Break/Sunday Pioneer/July 27, 2008
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