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December 17, 2001

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Dilip D'Souza

Themselves the Authorities

I mourn the seven whom the terrorists killed.

On the other hand, I have little sympathy for the hundreds of MPs inside that building. None of them lost any time -- once they knew the attackers were dead and it was safe to emerge, of course -- preening for the TV crews, claiming "providential" or "miraculous" escapes from the carnage, insisting they were the last to leave the Lok Sabha (how many could have been last, I wonder) and, above all, making of what happened every bit of political capital they can.

In short, we have ringside seats at one of the more disgusting spectacles being a democracy affords us: leaders who look like they are wringing their hands after a disaster. Never mind that they are really rubbing them in glee at the chance to further political interests.

So the opposition wants to castigate the government for its security lapses. As they do so, the governing coalition tell us this assault underlines the urgent need to promulgate POTO (and didn't you know? those who demur are helping terrorists).

Never mind that such is the tolerance for mediocrity in Indian officialdom that we all know the security lapses would have happened under any government at all, even one run by those in the opposition today. Never mind that POTO is already in force -- it is a presidential ordinance, after all, and has even been used to "ban" two organisations -- and still did not act as any kind of deterrent to the five "clean-shaven" (why is this particular adjective repeated so often?) young men.

Never mind, above all, that the question to ask is hardly what our parliamentarians are asking in horrified chorus: "if this could happen in the Lok Sabha, what will happen to the common man?" Let's instead ask this: if so many who decide our laws undermine the life of common Indians, most of all by being criminals themselves, why do they expect to be safe from terrorism?

"It was an attack on the country," they tell us, "on freedom and democracy itself." Emptier pronouncements would be difficult to make. Was it not an attack on the country when Mulayam Singh's followers attacked Mayawati and her party's UP legislators in Lucknow in 1995? Were the Bombay riots of 1992-93, during which the army actually detained a man called Madhukar Sarpotdar for carrying arms in a prohibited area, not an attack on the country? Was the slaughter of 1984, when 3,000 Indians were murdered and men like H K L Bhagat and Sajjan Kumar were accused of having played major roles in the carnage, not an attack on the country?

All the people I named in that paragraph are or have been MPs. By itself, is that little truth not an attack on democracy, on the country?

I feel like a stuck record writing about these things. Perhaps I am one. But really, is it an attack on the country only when the attackers wander over the border? Must that complacency blind us to the criminals who murder and loot and riot and cheat and then, too often, come to power over us? How much more hatred, destruction and bloodshed will we bring on our heads with this ostrich-like attitude?

And this rhetoric about attacks on freedom is about as fatuous as when we heard it from Dubya Bush three months ago. It is ludicrous and dangerously naive to believe that the hijackers flew their planes into the WTC because America is the land of the free; luckily, it seems to me that there is less of that naivete at large in the US now.

It is just as ludicrous and na´ve to believe that the clean-shaven quintuplets drove their Ambassador into the Lok Sabha premises because India is a democracy. More than that, I'm not even convinced that a lot of those Lok Sabha members truly know what democracy is or believe in it anyway. It grates to find them suddenly so concerned about it.

Let's at least have the courage, sense and self-confidence to recognise why these men -- in NYC or in Delhi -- did what they did. They had serious grievances against the two countries, against the policies they have pursued. Ascribing to them instead the foolish idea that they were "jealous" of "freedom" will only bring us more bloodshed. Not least because, for too many Indians, "freedom" and "democracy" remain just lifeless words. And I don't mean only those unwashed masses that hover out there, just outside our windows and beyond our consciousness. I also mean many -- too many -- of the people who represent us in the Lok Sabha.

No wonder there is the enormous well of cynicism out there that several journalists have already commented on. While mourning the dead, lots of Indians cannot help making snide remarks about the MPs themselves. As Seema Mustafa writes in The Asian Age, many people "wonder[ed] why the MPs were safe ... such has become the people-politician relationship that the janta openly joked about the cats' lives our representatives in Parliament are blessed with".

As a message from a senior editor on the scene that was forwarded to me says: "There was some disappointment and let-down feeling among all [who were watching] that the terrorists had not been able to enter the Parliament building and that all MPs were safe."

Yes, how many of you who read this can honestly claim you didn't, for even a moment, wish the MPs -- at least some of them -- had felt the attack just that bit harder than they did? And what a sad commentary on our democracy that is.

Men, clean-shaven or not, who choose to mount attacks on Indians get no sympathy. These five guys got what they had coming to them. Has that happened to everyone else who has attacked Indians?

But I find I have no patience for men who use these attacks to push their own political chimeras. Because they do not one thing to make daily Indian lives freer from want and thirst and injustice: in two words, more secure. Even though we elect them to do just that.

For example, many of them want POTO, and are now even more strident about it than before December 13. Besides glossing over its existence and use, they also gloss over the way so many powerful criminals have ignored or evaded our existing laws and are now lawmakers themselves. What sort of confidence can we have that giving them their new law will mean that criminals will be punished?

For another example, every year there's something else that's done to ensure the security of our lives, or so we hear: more money for more arms, a few nuclear explosions in the desert, still more money for still more arms. But none of this has managed to stop terrorism, or punish those who commit crimes, or make our streets any safer, or allowed us to feed millions of hungry Indians. It couldn't even stop a 1999 war that took the lives of over 500 of our soldiers.

If we are as concerned about security as we think we are, then the essential insecurity of so many Indian lives should shame us. It should shame these complacent parliamentarians who deliberate the future of our country.

But it does not.

That's because we are ruled by a political class, and now specifically a political party, that thrives on the chance to blame someone else, something else, for our problems. That tutors us to believe that they are without fault, and that our problems are foisted on us out of the blue. That winks at, actively encourages, the mixing of crime and politics. More ludicrous and naive things to tolerate. And if we are willing to do so, why, let's also resign ourselves to endless terrorism.

Chhagan Bhujbal, deputy chief minister of my state, has just "appealed to the citizens" to "be on the alert and help authorities identify and report suspicious movements of people". It's almost enough to make me wish somebody began a campaign to visit our legislative bodies and report to the "authorities" on the activities of their elected occupants.

Only problem: those occupants are themselves the "authorities".

Dilip D'Souza

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