Overdoing the resilience bit

BY s r ramanujan| IN Media Practice | 16/07/2006
After suffering seven terror strikes in a span of three years, if Mumbaikars are "resilient", is it a positive sign?

S R Ramanujan

It is part of human weakness for some people to talk first and then think. Our media friends too are from the same stock and this was evident when they hurriedly fixed a tag first for the Mumbaikars and then started the analysis.  The tag was that the Mumbaikars were ?most resilient?. This was done within a few hours of the ghastly tragedy on Black Tuesday because for the Mumbaikars it was ?business as usual?, never mind that two hundred of their fellow citizens were killed and seven hundred were injured. After suffering seven terror strikes in a span of three years, if they are ?resilient?, is it a positive sign? Or, does it show Mumbaikar¿s apathy and indifference to the horrendous violence in their neighbourhood? There was a clue in one or two sound bytes on the news channels. Someone said in Hindi: ?Ye tho hamesha hota hai?. A commuter said: ?We have no option. We have to get back to work. Otherwise we may lose our jobs. The choice is between losing jobs or losing lives?.

Whether the Mumbaikars were ?resilient? or not, there was an attempt by the media to oversimplify things in the midst of a gruesome tragedy. It is true, life was back to normal within 24 hours and the citizens demonstrated their will to take things in their stride because, as a vox pop said, there was no choice. But the anchors on channels interpreted it as a fitting reply to the terrorists by Mumbaikars. Nothing can be more ludicrous than this. Such negative resilience can even send a wrong message to the jihadis across the border about the passivity of Indians and that they have the field open to strike with complete impunity. After all, the Indians are quite ?resilient? and can bear the brunt of terrorist violence, whatever its intensity. If this is the message we want to send, then we deserve to be declared a soft state for those who would like to kill or maim innocent citizens in the name of religion.

However, the Deccan Chronicle was worried over a different plane. It said in its editorial ?Exercise Caution? (July 14) that ?The haste with which the intelligence agencies and the Mumbai police have rushed to heap blame for the terror attack on various doors, is surprising, as one would have expected a little caution from the authorities on this specific issue.? DC¿s concern is quite inexplicable. The intelligence agencies¿ suspicion was over Lashkar e Toiba which operates from Pakistan and Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), the foot soldiers in India for terror outfits. Where is the need for caution in naming them? Both these outfits have the track record of indulging in terrible acts of violence whether it is in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, or Maharashtra.

Though the daily was not quite explicit, what it was worried about was the possibility of the agencies naming Bangladeshi infiltrators illegally occupying lands in the  Malavani area of Malad for providing shelter to the ultras or the Police apprehending students of the minority community branding them as SIMI activists. Ironically, the daily carried a page one story on the same day on Bangladeshis being questioned by the Police. Well, you can¿t expect the jihadis to go to Matoshree (residence of Bal Thakeray) seeking shelter or cooperation for their nefarious activities. In Hyderabad, it is the Old City that is emerging as the hub of ISI. We have to face this ground reality though it might cause embarrassment to certain religious communities, a good majority of whom may keep a respectable distance from religious extremism. But, this tendency on the part of media or politicians to offer a cover-up for anti-social elements is dangerous and that provides inspiration for the terrorists to expand their terror network. The behaviour of the Maharashtra politicians is no less appalling either. They moved a privilege motion against the Maharashtra DGP for his statement that the local politicians might have had a hand in the blasts. Is this the time to put the Police top brass in a tight corner? You can¿t expect the agencies to be effective with their hands and legs tied behind.

Look at the way the UP chief minister Mulaym Singh Yadav is holding a brief for the SIMI. Even as the intelligence agencies are trying to figure out their role, here is a chief minister who says that there is no evidence of SIMI¿s involvement in Mumbai blasts. While the Times played up this story, and rightly so,  as the second lead (Mulayam plays the Simi card - July 14), it was a filler for the DC and a single column for the Hindu. It was the Indian Express which came out with an editorial comment on the shocking attitude of a chief minister. The edit said: ?The UP CM has told the country that in his view the SIMI is really a bunch of nice boys, only some of its members may be involved in terrorist activities. This is a distinction impossible to grasp unless your mind is solely focused on the next assembly elections in UP?. The edit also drew a comparison with the West Bengal chief minister who started a crackdown on SIMI.

There were some dailies which wanted to find a cause for the blasts. ?The most widely believed reason for Tuesday¿s serial bomb blasts is the confrontation between two extremist political forces in Mumbai¿s politics. The Shiv Sena on the one side and Muslim reactionary forces on the other?, said Deccan Chronicle.  The Times felt that the 7/11 was the result of revenge for Gujarat riots. The first-class compartments and the Western Railway were targeted because the Gujarat riots were funded by the rich Mumbai-based Gujaratis. So, went the reporter¿s imagination!  Why should the rich Gujaratis travel by public transport? Was there a riot, a la Gujarat, in Madrid, London, Egypt, or Bali? If we keep on finding a cause for every act of terrorist violence, we can never combat terror because there will be a reason for any crime. It is poverty that drives thieves to commit burglary or theft. So, can we justify burglaries?

Unless the investigative agencies have the unfettered freedom to call a spade a spade during the course of their probe, even if it hurts certain groups or communities, we can¿t win the war against terror, whatever be the rhetorical statements of the political class. This also puts a responsibility on right wing forces not to exploit the fall-out of such ruthless investigations for political gains or to score brownie points.

Contact: s_ramanujan9@yahoo.co.in 

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