Questions for the BJP

Dear BJP,

RE: Your performance during the Kandahar Episode

Do you have anything better than this Kanchan Gupta article to explain your performance? If not, then here are some questions that arise from that article:

  1. The article blames the media for creating the impression that the entire country wanted the terrorists to be released. The question is, were you elected to office based on SMS polls organized by the media? Don’t you have BJP workers all over the country?  Did you really have no way to be in touch with those who elected you?
  2. If you cannot fight your country’s media and some 200 families within the country, how do you expect Indians to have the confidence that you will fight India’s enemies? If you cannot take tough decisions and communicate them during a minor crisis like this, what would you have done if you had faced the situation that Britain faced during World War II when the Germans were bombing them?
  3. The article is pretty critical of the behaviour of the officials at the Raja Sansi airport. Apparently, they failed to obey a direct order from a Central Minister at the time of crisis. What did you do to end the careers of such incompetent officials? Or do your powers of harrassment and vindictiveness extend only to those who expose wrongdoing in your government?
  4. In December 1999, NSG commandoes could not fly from Delhi to Amritsar because they did not have a plane. In November 2008, NSG commandoes could not fly from Delhi to Mumbai because they still did not have a plane. What did you do between 1999 and 2004 to get the NSG commandoes a plane?
  5. Finally, if, when faced with the problems, constraints and incentives that the Indian National Congress did, you are going to do the same things that the Indian National Congress did, why should anyone who is exasperated with the performance of the Indian National Congress vote for you?


Ganti says

Lets give it an honest thought. Imagine a situation where gunmen/terrorists had taken a chawl in Bombay hostage instead of the Taj. What do you think would have been the nature of media coverage ?

If he is talking of the Indian media, then yes, they would have covered it almost as breathlessly as they covered the Taj and Oberoi standoffs. 

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This Time They Hit the Rich

One argument that is being made about the Mumbai attacks is that they are garnering so much attention because this time the rich were targeted. This argument contains multiple levels of silliness. 

Yes, there is a class divide in India. There is a divide between the literate and the illiterate. There is a divide between those who read English newspapers and those who don’t. There is a divide between cities and villages. Now, the whole point of a class divide is that those on one side of a divide feel greater kinship among themselves than with those on the other side. Readers of English newspapers like to read about the travails of other middle-class readers like themselves and don’t care much about farmers dying in Vidarbha. A citizen of Mumbai cares more about people dying in train bombings in his city than he does for deaths due to Naxalism or caste wars. That makes sense.

But if you try to stretch this standard argument to argue that this particular terror strike is getting more attention because it was targeted at the rich South Bombay types, that is where the argument snaps. The typical English speaker is far more likely to travel by train than be able to afford coffee at the Taj or Oberoi. He is much more likely to feel kinship with those who died in a train blast on July 11, 2006  than with those who died in the November massacre.  

There is a sliver of truth in the argument – in that it is true that the attacks got more attention in the West because Americans and Britons were killed.  But using the argument to explain why they have generated such an enormous outrage amont Mumbaikars involves lazy thinking as well as an active effort to avoid the blindlingly obvious.

Shameful Piece by the Economist

Five years ago, the Economist was cheering not only the invasion of Afghanistan, but also that of Iraq. Now, when it comes to India’s response to the Mumbai terror attacks, the Economist has declared  that we should not emulate the US “mistakes” like… the invasion of Afghanistan.  Worse still, now it turns out that the US incursions into Pakistan – the threat of which is the only thing that is keeping Pakistan in check, are also a bad idea.

This Time it is Different

I am usually contemptuous of attempts to link enormous tragedies to the writer’s minor personal misfortunes, but bear with me on this.  On 27th November, I was stuck in a hotel room in the United States, unable to return to Mumbai because my flight was cancelled due to the terrorist attacks. I had missed breakfast because I was glued to the television, and because it was Thanksgiving day and no restaurant was open, I faced the prospect of staying hungry throughout the day. I was also feeling exceedingly lonely and was desperately missing my two-month old infant son.   

My problems, needless to say, were trivial compared to what my city went through. The reason I am mentioning them is to explain why the incident of Karambir Kang, General Manager at the Taj,  losing his wife and two daughters in a fire while he was saving hotel guests caused me to burst into tears. 

It has been over a week since, and I am still seething. This is not the first terrorist strike on Mumbai or on India, and the way things are going, this will not be the last. But there was something different about this one. It is one thing to anonymously set off a few bombs and kill a couple of hundred people. It is quite another when 10 or 20 people, armed with guns and grenades, hold off the might of the Indian State. This is probably the greatest display of India’s military weakness since the defeat of 1962. 

Defending Modi’s Honour is Unnecessary

Ritwik’s lament is that all his arguments with me devolve into nitpicking.  My response is, he starts it.  For example, in my post about terrorism, I model Narendra Modi as being interested only in votes, not in combating terrorism. Ritwik’s response to that is that while is interested in both fighting terrorism and winning elections, and when there is a conflict between the two, winning elections takes precedence. In FitW’s formulation of the same point, Modi considers winning elections his patriotic duty to keep the evil Congress at bay, and therefore considers short term setbacks in the fight against terrorism as acceptable collateral damage. 

This is an astonishingly subtle distinction, and I took some time to grasp it. The trouble is, this distinction has very little to do with my actual argument. 

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The Model of Law Enforcement

It so happens that  my article in Pragati is around 200 words shorter than it should have been, because it was supposed to be one of a set of 2, and had a reduced word limit than the normal Pragati article. Neither Nitin nor I are very strict about word counts while editing. If an article is well-written, we don’t care if it goes a couple of hundred words over. But while writing I am very very conscious about word limits. I set a target, constantly check my pace, and almost always ensure that I make the limit.  When it became clear that Karthik’s article was not going to arrive, I was thinking of revising my article a bit, but then I had to rush to the hospital. So if I had given myself another 200 words, I would have been able to cover some of points I am covering now.

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Me in Pragati

I have an article up in the October 2008 issue of Pragati. There I argue against Karthik’s post on statistics and terrorism. I argue that if we give a “free hand” to our police to fight terrorism without insisting that they obtain convictions from courts, we will not only end up with too many innocent victims, but also too few genuine terrorists. This was supposed to run in a debate format, with an article from Karthik and a response from me, but Karthik asked for a bailout at the last minute, which left only my article standing.