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September 03, 2003
Last Monday, some 52 innocent people were blown to death in Mumbai. They were ordinary businessmen, clerks, tourists, taxi drivers and, maybe, plain loiterers. They were, in fact, so ordinary that we haven't even bothered with their names. Like those 62 killed in the five blasts that preceded the latest outrages and those 257 killed in the Dawood Ibrahim-organised blasts of March 1993, they will be enshrined in the annals of contemporary India as lifeless statistics ready to be invoked during a home ministry briefing or a diplomatic jaw-jaw.
This is no time for recrimination, we are rightly told, because violence triggers violence. Wasn't terrorism in Punjab spawned by the senseless butchery of 3,000 Sikhs by the custodians of Indira Gandhi's legacy? Weren't the 1993 Mumbai blasts the Muslim retaliation for riots preceding them? Aren't Monday's blasts a reaction to what happened in Gujarat after the Godhra carnage?
This is the time to show resilience, the time for business-as-usual and the time for a desi stiff upper lip. The terrorists want to spread disharmony and generate fear but a united India will not be moved. It has nothing to fear but fear itself. The Sensex is up and we just can't afford to be down. India is in a state of denial.
Yes, the season for prescriptions is upon us. As Mumbai clears the debris and gets back to the serious business of generating wealth, we are being confronted with a litany of what we shouldn't do. We shouldn't, for example, emulate Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and engage in retaliatory 'targeted killings' of terrorists and their patrons. After all, do we want fanatical suicide bombers walking into the lobby of the Taj Mahal Hotel and killing people like us? We shouldn't be like President George W Bush and declare a real war on terrorism, one that involves actual armed conflict. We can't jeopardise the lives of our soldiers in search of invisible enemies.
No, in this land of the Mahatma, and so what if we invoke him seasonally and selectively, we must evolve an Indian response. We must assume the mantle of moral superiority and preach the message of universal brotherhood. We must, in short, do precisely nothing; maybe just turn the other cheek. The faith that will not fight, an English writer Edmund Chandler wrote about India in 1910, 'cannot yield.'
We mustn't get into the horrible business of racial profiling in public places; we mustn't target communities for the sins of misguided individuals; we mustn't play around with draconian laws like POTA because we value civil liberties; we mustn't target little known but well-funded seminaries that indoctrinate impressionable minds about holy wars, because we value cultural diversity; and, in our battle against terrorism, we must never forget to address that wonderful phrase, the 'roots of terrorism.' Like the character in a Bankim Chandra Chatterjee novel, we must scoff at the vulgarians: 'You are vile, why shouldn't I be noble?'
It is an uplifting approach that should endure till the fire next time. It is an approach that, presumably, will melt the hearts of the butchers, will convince them that 21st century India is more appealing than the utopia of 7th century Arabia, will reassure them that our secularism is better than their military autocracy and, finally, will persuade them that nationhood involves us all. It must and it has to, because the criminals aren't always foreigners (though they, too, have a major role) but highly motivated men and women whose names figure quite legitimately on our electoral rolls.
This, in a sense, is the quandary of enlightened Indians. In what they perceive is a conflict of aesthetics, they know, just as we know, that what happened in Mumbai on August 25 was more than another incident of terrorism; it was also an act of betrayal. The outpourings of sanctimonious humbug mask this grim reality.
Swapan Dasgupta is a senior Delhi-based journalist