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Monday, July 31, 2006

Unfair comparison with Israel

In the aftermath of the Mumbai blasts we again seen the never ending comparison with Israel. It's become almost a cliche to compare India with Israel (and given Israel's current operations in Lebanon, the comparison is even more widespread). The main argument being that India is not as harsh/stern in dealing with terrorism as Israel is, that a country as small as Israel surrounded on all sides by Arab states, deals with the mere kidnapping of two of its soldiers with such stern reaction. This apparently shows how much it cares for the lives of its ordinary citizens.

I wish to rebuff these charlatanism with following points

  • Even after being so stern with terrorism, it would not be anybody's argument that Israel has 'tamed' or 'successfully tackled' the problems of terrorism. It continues to be plagued by it. The resolution in sight even in its case seems to be dialogue and a mutually acceptable settlement to the Palestinian problem.
  • Secondly, it is very clear in case of Israel, that almost all terrorism is external in nature. In our case I am not so sure. Yes, it is very fashionable to blame Pakistan for every small bomb blast that takes place in this country. Yet there is very little evidence (at least in public domain). We should not lose sight that there are enough people in this country who are prone to indulge in terrorist acts. SIMI is a home growth organisation, so was the underworld of Mumbai (and though they get support both financial and political from across the border, its cadre very much consists of people who at least on paper are Indian nationals). The Naxalite movement (a highly under reported, understood and recognised risk) is entirely home grown and to date is not known of having any links with Pakistan. The Sikh militancy was home grown to a large extent. The militancy in North East (ULFA, Bodo) is again home grown to a large extent (though admittedly it has 'some' financial/political support from some border countries). This home grown nature of the militancy, changes the situation to a large extent.
  • Finally, even if we concluded that our neighbour on North West is to blame the issue of feasibility of our military actions deals fatal blow to all our ambitions of Israeli type tactics. The military superiority that Israel enjoys vis-a-vis its neighbours is overwhelming. Inspite of the aerial and land assault that Israel has launched on Lebanon (or Hezbollah), all that it seems to be able to retaliate with is a few rockets. The ratio of number of people dying on both sides is a stark reminder of this overwhelming superiority that Israel enjoys. India too does have military superiority over Pakistan, but it is no where as overwhelming. The kind of response we are talking here is not a full scale war, but a short and swift military action - and this is where the lack of overwhelming superiority hurts us. Pakistan has enough ammunition to make our payoffs appear too risky and not worth it. This is the single biggest reason why even if wanted to, we cannot launch the very kind of operations that we are fascinated by the Israelis.

Again, don't get me wrong. I am not for one moment suggesting that we go soft on terror. But we must appreciate the nature of the problem faced by us before we start going over board with our fascination of Israeli tactics. Making fruits of development and the judicial system reach all corners of the country by themselves would in my opinion go a long way in solving our problems. We need to look inwards for solutions - and get cracking!

That's it for now....

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Mumbai blasts aftermath - Some thoughts

Some of the events/acts in the immediate aftermath of the Mumbai blasts are really troubling. Here are my thoughts on some of them.
  • Firstly this intelligence failure business - Post every terrorist incident we simply jump around and blame the intelligence authorities for their 'perceived' failure in preventing the indcidents. But what we fail to understand is that this intelligence business is very tough. You need to be right every single time while the terrorists need to be right just once (and they can and they indeed do keep trying on and on and on...). So if an attack is foiled the intelligence agencies have done their job - but we are blissfully unaware of their success but even a single failure of them and they are chastised in full public glare. I am not suggesting that there was no intelligence failure or that there are no intelligence failures - but lets no rush to conclusion on the day after.
  • Secondly this business of the 'Mumbai spirit' - Firstly, its almost a cliche nowadays post any terrorist incident in any city of the world to praise that city's spirit and how that incident will bring the city together and how it will gather itself and bounce back and defeat the intentions of the terrorists etc etc etc. Part of this patting is necessary just to fill that 'josh' into the people. But beyond that lets not fool ourselves in believing that there is anything special called as 'Mumbai spirit'. Lets face it - Mumbai returned to near normalcy (as much as could be achieved physically) purely because its people did not have any other option. I myself was one of those who went to work the next day - afraid i was to some extent, anxious I certainly was - but I could not stay at home. Mumbaikar's have seen incidents like this happen every couple of years and thus it has become a part of their psyche. The incident has its 'shock' impact for a few hours but then it gets lost in the Mumbaikar's 'been there, seen that' attitude.
  • Thirdly the most sad part has been the (Central) government's response - The first thing it does is to blame Pakistan. Its one thing to blame groups based in Pakistan and other to blame the 'Pakistan'. By doing so each and everytime a terrorist incident happens and not coming up with any concrete evidence of the involvement of 'Pakistan' we degrade our credibility in the eyes of the International Community. Worse still its the people of the country who are being fooled, and the incompetence/inability of the investgative agencies brushed aside under the capet. The next step the government does is to call off talks with Pakistan scheduled to be held in a few days time. This is as foolish as it gets. The entire world expected us to respond in that manner and we just did! That says a lot about our diplomatic skills. We should certainly be more (and more) demanding of Pakistan in rooting out terror that is exported from its country - but such a feeble response does not take us anywhere. Instead, going to the talks and conveying to them in strong language what our exact demands are would have resulted in credit in the eyes of the international community. Yes, the pressure from domestic public was there to call of the talks and to do some 'hard talking' but that is precisely the reason why our not calling off the talks would have resulted in credit to us. We certainly need to be stern and demanding with Pakistan but in manner which reflects inaction on the part of Pakistan in curbing terror that causes a breakdown of talks rather than a knee-jerk response from our side. We need to be smarter
  • Fourthly its the reaction of the Samajwadi party in refusing the ban SIMI - This thing is dangerous on two counts - firstly because what it tells is that the government in Uttar Pradesh will not follow/implement the decision of the Central government to ban SIMI. IF the central government believes that a particular organisation is against national interest and indeed is accused of having terror links then its no business of the state government to do anything other than implement it in letter and spirit. Tommorrow the Tamil Nadu government may say that it does not believe that the LTTE is a terrorist organisation and this it will not implement the ban on it in letter/spirit. This sets a dangerous precedent. Secondly, the evidence is overwhelming that SIMI does indeed have terror links and that the actions/words of the Samajwadi party is purely driven by its perceived benefits in playing the 'Muslim card' in the forthcoming assembly elections. Going soft on a terror linked organisation for electoral benefits may prove disastrous for this country and its something that all sections of the society must condemn. May sense prevail in Mulayam Singh Yadav's mind - but I am not hopeful
  • Fifthly the so called 'Hardline Hindutva' organisations - I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised at the fairly cool response of these organisations to these terror attacks. May such sense prevail often at these organisations. This is certainly not the time to inflame religious feelings and thank heavens that these parties and their hothead leaders seem to have behaved in a relatively mature manner. But I did see one poster posted by VHP at Bhandup station and it was a fairly explicit in what its feelings were towards Muslims. I do not think any ordinary Muslim would appreciate (infact any feeling other than anger is unlikely) that. For some reasons, these organisations have a penchant for creating nuisance. Though they have been relatively quiet this time - I think that is down to mere chance rather than any deliberate attempt on their part. I don't think these organisations really appreciate the importance of preserving peace and harmony in the city. These organisations continue to remain a potential source of risk - although I have much more faith in the people of Mumbai than I had in the people of Gujarat in controlling (in fact not allowing) untoward situations.
  • Sixthly the question of cause - We must also address the question of what leads a human being to so hate something/somebody that he/she is ready to kill not tens but hundreds of people. And while the situation in Kashmir is an obvious thing to point at, we must also look inwards and point to our own systemic faults - our investigative and judicial process. They say justice delayed is justice denied - and if denial of justice happens in a systemic manner, hatred grows. We still have not punished the perpetrators of the Gujarat riots and those involved in committing the Godhra carnage. We still have not punished those involved in the 1993 blasts. We still have not punished those involved in the 1992 riots in Mumbai. We still have not punished those involved in demolishing the Babri Masjid. We still have not punished those involved in 1984 anti-Sikh riots. Is this not denial of justice? Does this not motivate people to want to take law in their own hands? I am not justifying their acts - but I am putting forth some of the grounds which may create the hatred. And this works for all the parties involved. Seldom do riots affect only one religion or one race. People of both sides are affected and if the involved are not punished adequately, publicly and efficiently; it sows the seeds of next riots, next terror attacks - taking the country down into another round of chaos.
  • Finally, we need to grapple with the reality that though not every Muslim is a terrorist, almost inevitably all terrorists are Muslims. Now simple logic demands that, that is where our intelligence agencies must concentrate their limited efforts - but doing that amounts to religious profiling, something which we ideally should not be doing. But can we help it? Can we afford to not do otherwise? I think we need to move ahead on this, yes its unfair on the large majority of the Muslim population of this country - but I think the larger interests of the country demand that. But at the same time, this very religious profiling can lead to more mistrust and more hatred, so we need to be discreet and smart. Maybe we take help of some foreign govenments who have had to deal with similar issues. But do something we must - but I am not optimistic on this front.
Well, thats it for now....

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Zidane's head butt and Sachin Tendulkar

Just a thought occured to me -

What Zidane did in the final against Italy was a very serious offence. There are no two ways about it. Even the French media and public admitted it and felt the punishment he received (Red Card) was well deserved. But at the same time, they still respect him for what he has achieved although this incident would go down as a blot on record of their national hero.

Few years back we had a similar incident (although some might argue not quite that serious) with our national hero - Sahin Tendulkar.

Sachin was shown on television to be doing something with the seam of a cricket ball - a punishable offence in the game. And although the player claimed he was just cleaning the seam, the offence nevertheless deserved to be punished (no player is going to go out and admit that he did wrong). The Indian media and public however were not ready to accept that what Sachin did was anything wrong and then there were cries of differential treatment and harsh puinishment being meeted out etc etc etc. There was a huge public outcry when punishment was handed out to him.

Now here's the difference - both Zidane and Sachin are national infact global incons in their own rights. But one is respected the other is idolized. One makes a mistake, pays for it and the fans accept the punishment as deserved and move on. Their respect for him is not diminished. However the fans of the other do not accept the fact (playing with the seam of a cricket ball is a crime in the game period) and make cries of partiality etc.

Its time we became more mature and stopped godifying people. If a person makes a mistake, he pays for it and life moves on. Everyone makes a mistake. Life goes on.

Let life go on..

Thats it for now...

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Mittal Saga

I must say, I am very puzzled with the way the whole Mittal episode was handled not just by the media but the politicians and also public at large.

Yes, Mittal owns the largest steel company in the world and yes, he is an Indian. But let us get our facts straight
  • Mittal has lived outside India for more than 3 decades
  • Mittal has no business interests in India
  • His company is not an Indian company
  • His retaining Indian passport is also likely due to the tax status (I happen to know another 'Indian' who lived whole of his life outside India but retains Indian passport solely due to tax purposes!)
  • He has never publicly championed the cause of either India and Indian business
  • He is a very ruthless businessman (for which I respect him)
Yet, inspite of this the issue was talked about as if we were referring to a person next door - a person who is a national hero.

Sample this
  • We believed (rather convinced ourselves) that the hostility to his take over bid was his 'race', rather his being an Indian - without knowing that over the last few months there have been objections to take over of European companies by Europeans as well.
  • Our Commerce Minister (Mr. Kamal Nath) believes that it is his conversation with the Luxemburg head of state that ensured that Luxemburg did not oppose the deal - Who is Kamalnath?
  • We believed that Mr. Mittal is a shining of modern Indian businessman - bold, audacious, ambitious etc etc etc - what's the relation?
How convenient of ourselves? As the famous McEnroe saying goes, I wish to ask people - You are not serious.

Don't get me wrong, I have lots of respect for Mr. Mittal. But there is not need to eulogise him. I am proud of his being of Indian origin and I wish him luck, but I don't godify him.

Lets not go overboard..

That's it for now...