Saturday, December 27, 2008

Lollipop Nation Wants Limited Offensive

जियें तो अपने बग़ीचे में गुलमोहर के तले
मरें तो ग़ैर की गलियों में गुलमोहर के लिये

It's remarkable that we have not forgotten Mumbai. The notoriously short public memory apparently isn't that short. But do not be too confident. This too shall pass. Mumbai 26/11 will eventually slip out of the front page and newspapers will mark its anniversary for the customary couple of years. Am I being too pessimistic? Well, if our past is any inkling of the future, this seems inevitable. We did forget Mumbai train blasts, Delhi blasts, Ahmedabad blasts and got back to our lives, each time, after a round of furious blame-game. Hindu hardliners blamed Islamic terror, Muslim hardliners blamed Hindu terror, conservatives blamed liberals, liberals blamed pinko-liberals, Arundhati Roy blamed India and India blamed Pakistan. Thank you very much, can we move on with our lives now?

So what has changed that we aren't moving on this time and insist on 'some action'? Some say that this is the first time terror came too close for the upper crust's comfort: Bombings in local trains were outrageous but South Bombay remained the heaven of fun. The rich could shift to five-star hotels if things got too hot in the suburbs. Now five-stars were not safe either. Hence, this outrage! This is too simplistic. The truer part is that Mumbai has shaken each one of us, irrespective of where we live. That is why this cry for action refuses to subside.

Nobody loves a war though everybody wants to teach Pakistan a lesson. Some people want it just to kill boredom. Some others say don't go for a full-scale war but go for a 'limited offensive', the latest entrant to our lexicon after the other side contributed 'non-state actors'. What if the 'limited' crosses the limit and turns into an all-out war? Few have answers to that because even God wouldn't want the so-called limited offensive to turn into the world's first nuclear war between two third world countries still struggling to feed over a billion hungry stomachs.

So it is better the limited stays limited. There is a chance of that happening. Take this scenario: India strikes at a few terrorist camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Those Lashkar loonies aren't that mad, they have left those camps by now. Some civilians and their goats are killed. Pakistan screams murder. We scream revenge. No harm done. Angry Indians are happy that something was done. The worried world pleads us to go back to the talks table. There is bonhomie of cricket matches and emotional speeches about how people of these two countries love each other and how politics is playing them against each other. Jhappis, pappis and candlelight vigils at the Wagah Border follow. So sugary sweet.

It doesn't last, however. Another series of blasts rips through the bonhomie. Another Mumbai, in another city. I do not believe the pop theory that Pakistani citizenry loves Indians and vice versa. I am equally wary of accepting that they want to kill and maim Indians and bleed us by a thousand cuts. The common man on both sides has no love lost for the one across the border. But he doesn't hate the 'enemy' common man either. The common man is busy building a better future for his family. It is the uncommon man, the military elite in Pakistan that has made hating us their business, the easy route to claim authority and share the booty in increased defence budgets and American billions. They also hold a grudge against us because they have had a bloody nose at least three times in the past. The ISI, part of the Army, hates us from the bottom of its gut, Kashmir-centric terror groups like Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen have been at war with us and the Osama-inspired jehad factory would love to see us writhing in pain.

Zardari's non-state actors write the script in blood and stage it in Afghanistan and India and even inside Pakistan, while the Pakistani political class watches the dance of death from the gallery. In the event of a limited offensive from this side of the Radcliffe line, the real India-haters will not be harmed. The state actors will get hurt while non-state actors will get new excuses to fool the common Pakistani into justifying their war against India. A jobless and desperate young man like Ajmal Kasab will even take up arms on their behalf and come to die in India. Since Kasab has lived to sing, the next Kasab will come with explosives strapped to his body to make sure he dies before he kills. We will blame Pakistan and Pakistan will promptly deny. And we will go back to where we began.

Some Indians love the Bush strategy: There has been no terrorist attack in America since 9/11. It's true that the US took the war to the enemy's territory to keep its homeland safe. The phrase 'Bush Strategy' is part oxymoronic and the strategy plain moronic. The result of the strategy is that more Americans have died avenging 9/11 than those killed on 9/11. Americans continue to die in Iraq and Afghanistan almost every day.

Does it mean we will never be safe in our own country? Not at all. It is time we gave our internal security apparatus a thorough overhaul. The Prime Minister has just met state leaders to overhaul the security infrastructure. Some policies, including a new law, have been announced. The National Investigation Agency has begun taking shape. But we have had laws and investigating agencies before this. The key is implementation on the ground, strict and unbiased. It's simpler than limited offensive but needs unlimited political will and constant vigil. Are we up to it?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ion ionises, fertiliser fertilises, analyser analyses

Dear Diary,
The truth is there is not just one . There is a conspiracy here, and there, and there, and there. Oh my God! Do you see it?

You see, I did make that statement about a wider conspiracy behind Karkare’s murder. After all who sent Karkare to Cama when the Taj was under attack? Well, I myself there. Taj was not under attack then. Newspapers tell me that Cama was under attack when Karkare went there. They say it’s logical for Karkare to go to Cama. Well it is logical! Bmy question is: who sent him there?Obviously, someone sent him there to die as part of a conspiracy.

I am told that Karkare was the top officer of the Anti-Terrorist Squad and he gave orders, and did not need any. His department’s boss, he was. Well, heck, yes! Then it was Karkare who sent and it was Karkare who went. So, we can safely deduce that Hemant Karkare conspired to get Hemant Karkare killed. Why can’t people see this, the conspiracy?

Now they are saying I crossed the line, the one taken by my government. Do you see a conspiracy to malign me? I may have given that statement but who sent me to parliament that day to become a victim of this conspiracy. The opposition, the media and some of my colleagues are now attacking me. Thank god for some of my colleagues who are not. Like Digvijay Singh, who’s now sure that there is a conspiracy to malign me. He is not sure about the conspiracy to kill Karkare but he is halfway there. I am also halfway there. In the middle is this conspiracy to force me to apologise. I don't apologise. The home minister said in parliament that there was no conspiracy to kill Karkare, so I suppose I am convinced. That satisfies me.

People make all kinds of assumptions. They say I did it for Muslim votes. And Muslims are accusing me of maligning Muslims by painting all Muslims with the same brush. Am I the first to do so? People in politics do that all the time. The BJP leaders do it. The Muslim League does it. My own party has done it so many times. But when I do it, there is such a rumpus. Why is it so? It is, my dear diary, a grave conspiracy. They say I am divisive. How do you rule otherwise? Can somebody here illuminate me? What do Lalu, Karunanidhi, Sharad Pawar do? They divide people according to caste, is that lesser conspiracy? Bal does it on religious lines and I decided to try it.

Those South Bombay people are crying that I am politicising terror. Well, I am a politician. Am I not? An ion ionises, a sanitiser sanitises, fertiliser fertilises and a politician politicises. That’s my job. I am not asking Aamir Khan to stop acting then who is he to ask me stop politicising. I never asked journalists to stop editorialising, then why are they asking me to not do my job? Stupid townies of town and also of the suburbs, they have no understanding of politics. I am a minister for minority affairs minister. I have done just minor things for the minorities and the majority of the time lapsed in twiddling my thumb. I have to face an election and I have no face to show. Even a Sachar got more publicity than me. I have got my share now. Any publicity is good publicity. That’s one conspiracy I own up to. But must I apologise? They are saying yes I better. Well, how many times do I have to say that ion ionises, sanitiser sanitises, fertiliser fertilises and a politician politicises? I am not an apologiser or apologician or apolo-13. I am a politician.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Photography Prohibited & Other Signs of the Raj

Mumbai 26/11 was not the first time terrorists used technology to kill. And it will certainly not be the last. But every time there is evidence of technology aiding terror, hawks inside the government and outside it seek to wage their own war on technology.

On Tuesday, a Mumbai-based lawyer filed a PIL in the Bombay High Court demanding that Google remove maps of Indian cities or at least our vital installations from the popular Google Maps service. Reason: Police say terrorists sourced maps of Mumbai from the Google Maps service. “Even images of nuclear plants and defence establishments are available on this site. It is a security hazard,” petitioner Amit Karkhanis told the media.

In another after-effect of Mumbai, the government at the Centre wanted to crack down on Blackberry services. Mumbai 26/11 gave Delhi another excuse to mount a fresh offensive on the Canadian proprietor of Blackberry, Research In Motion. Blackberry devices are encrypted so strongly that even government agencies find it difficult to intercept and crack them. Terrorists in Mumbai were allegedly using this device to communicate with their bosses in Pakistan.

About a couple of years ago, there was a huge brouhaha after some people objected to detailed satellite maps of the Rashtrapati Bhavan available on the Internet for all to see. Google had then agreed to blur some strategic locations because the government prevailed. The images were back after some time and thank Google for it. It was stupid of the government to ask Google to comply. If some body wants to attack the Rashtrapati Bhavan, he or she will find other ways to get maps. There are books on its architecture, history and what not where the original maps of the whole Lutyen’s area are available.

This paranoia is grossly misplaced and misleading. Should the government ban kitchen knives because it can be used to commit homicide? Services like Blackberry and Google maps make life easier. Blackberry’s encryption helps corporations conduct business on the go without the fear of someone snooping on company secrets. Google maps, now also available on mobile phones, helps us find our way in unknown cities. It also helps us finding nearest ATMs, restaurants, chemists and other utility near any place we may be.

The move to demand a ban or even control on availability of GPS and other services smacks of the Raj days, the hangover of which refuses to leave. The Central government allotted phones to only a few privileged ones till the late Seventies. Till date, you cannot take photographs of random bridges, railway stations, airports and even some bus stands. This, in an age when satellites can spot every single brick used in such buildings with signs like “Photography Prohibited”.

If the terrorists need a map of Mumbai, they would find hundreds of other ways to procure one even if you ban Google. It will only make it difficult for the common man to use these services. Similarly, the terrorists would find alternatives to Blackberry.

Technology is a two-edged sword. When mobile phones became very popular, we feared that criminals would now use them to their advantage. The fears were not unfounded: the mobile phone made criminal enterprise quicker and deadlier. But the same phone gave them away. Today, a large percentage of criminals get caught because police track their phones.

It's time we stopped fearing new technology. The modern communication tools have made the world a smaller place and a better place as well. Controlling their inevitable spread will not stop its misuse.

(The author has used mobile GPS to get back on the road at places with serious chances of getting lost.)

Monday, December 08, 2008

Ready for the final exams? Some tips

Sheila Dikshit was a gone case, especially after Mumbai 26/11. Delhi, like every place else in the country, was angry at what was happening in Mumbai. Pundits wrote off whatever chances Dikshit had had as people queued outside polling booths on Novermber 29. Mumbai was still smelling of gunpowder as Delhiites were getting their fingers inked. The high turnout, analysts said, generally upset the ruling party. They were wrong. Dikshit has won the Congress a third term, a rare feat in these instant-gratification times. When Delhi voted on November 29, the Mumbai wounds were fresh and the Congress government at the Centre was being squarely blamed for being soft on terror. So what really happened that saved a Congress government in Delhi and pulled the rug from under BJP’s Vasundhara in Rajasthan while keeping it away from power in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. There are lessons to be learnt here for both Congress and the BJP or for any party for that matter.

Change we can believe in
Facial change is farcical. Sheila Dikshit was not really strong when the poll bells rang. She was in pretty bad condition. The trading class was angry thanks to sealings and demolitions, the South Delhi upper crust was up in arms against the Bus Rapid Transit corridor and the poor were poorer because of the price rise in recent times. Delhi wanted change and was seriously looking for one. The BJP picked a relic from its cupboard as its chief ministerial candidate. Vijay Kumar Malhotra did not represent change, he was more of the same. Vijay Kumar Malhotra was old, regressive, rancorous and effete. The majority of young voters could not relate to him. Aunty Sheila was more progressive in spite of the occasional foot-in-mouth disease (She called murdered journalist Sowmya Viswanathan adventurous because she was driving home so late in the night). She was forgiven because BJP leaders could be worse with their brand of divisive politics and regressive rhetoric. My guess is that the not-so-high-profile Harshvardhan could inspire more people than Malhotra can. Delhi was not so much Congress’s win as it was Sheila Dikshit’s. It was however BJP’s loss. No one expected miracles from Malhotra.

The Congress failed to snatch the chair from Shivraj Singh Chauhan in Madhya Pradesh because it did not provide an alternative. It provided alternatives — Digvijay Singh, Sudheesh Pachauri and Kamal Nath. Any one of these could become the chief minister if Congress won. The voters chose to stick with Shivraj Singh Chauhan, whom they were only discovering and who came up as earnest. He also reflects change from the old-world politics of the relics like Kailash Joshi and Sundar Lal Patwa. People want real change, not just a change of face. Look at Uma Bharti. She may be out of BJP, but she was more of the same. And far more cantankerous!

Walk The Talk
Years of Congress rule in Madhya Pradesh (which then included Chhattisgarh) had failed to take the state out of the category called BIMARU (Bihar-Madhya Pradesh-Rajasthan-Uttar Pradesh). It’s not that Shivraj Singh has worked any miracles since he took over as the third choice of the Bharatiya Janata Party in five years (Uma Bharati and Babulal Gaur preceded him). But Shivraj Singh was a breath of fresh air in a party rotting in the constant in-fighting and ill-will thereof. He was different and pretty unheard of outside his state, though he was a central minister during the NDA regime. He was not larger than life, so he got to work immediately. When the time came to seek votes, he went to the people of Madhya Pradesh with what he had done, which was very little. But that very little marked his sincerity. He was rewarded.

Compared to him Sheila Dikshit has done a lot of visible work in the last 10 years. Delhi’s air is cleaner, there are more flyovers, then there is the Metro, which will soon be the largest network of its kind in the world. The Bhagidari scheme is not only a popular buzzword but it works. A lot of babu work has now been shifted to the electronic route and it has brought corruption levels down. Sheila Dikshit comes out as an honest and earnest politician. She is pretty much clear of sleaze, something Vasundahara Raje in Rajasthan is not. Her regime was seen as corrupt. She was seen as tolerating all the misdeeds that her ministers and babus committed. People have little tolerance for corruption. People were thinking about development and a clean government while she went about talking of terrorism.

The Mumbai Message
That brings us to the shock and horror of Mumbai that both Vijay Kumar Malhotra in Delhi and Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan attempted to encash in this election. It backfired and how! These leaders miscalculated the anger in Mumbai and over Mumbai. You don’t need to be a political analyst to understand that the anger was against politicians in general. It was not about BJP or Congress. The angry outpourings were against the political system and not a party. The fact that a commercial featuring Vasundhara ranting against terrorism was repeated ad nauseam on TV channels only made things worse. It was disgusting to hear her while the encounters were on in Mumbai. No body in her party had the good sense to take it off air, because the bad sense of vote-greed prevailed. Look who has the egg on her face now!

The result of the so-called semi-finals is a clear signal to the political class: People dislike politics over dead bodies. They want action against perpetrators of terror and more protection for the common man, but empty promises won’t do. Get specific. People want more development and less corruption. They do want change but not for the sake of it. Ready for the finals?