Saturday, November 29, 2008

Death of a hero.

Hemant Karkare (12 December 1954 – 26 November 2008) was the chief of the Mumbai Anti Terrorist Squad. He was killed during the November 2008 Mumbai attacks after being hit in his chest by three bullets fired by terrorists

Not the best footage, but you can hear what a state funeral sounds like. I was about to cry the whole time.

Friday, November 28, 2008

An equal attack

I just want to remind everyone, including the Indian media, that this is not an A-list attack. The Taj and Oberoi were just some of the targets -- local spots like the Chattrapati Shivaji Terminus and the Cama Hospital -- have seen the most dead. With the inclusion of the Jewish House and the demand for the US/UK passports, it seems they have targeted rich, poor, Indian, foreign all in one clean sweep.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Shame on the government

I've been watching the news in horror -- this entire situation has been going on far too long. It's been almost twenty hours since the first gun shots, that turned into grenades, that turned into a hostage situation. But while I was watching Bombay burn, a thought kept gnawing me from behind: aren't we in the middle of cracking a terror trail right now (Malegaon). Why is it that the intelligence agencies are only adept at a post-mortem, and not good at any preventive measures? The fact that these guys are still bombing the Taj (its 5:07pm as I type), I can't understand how much ammunition they have hoarded up with them. My guess, that I also heard on TV, is that they checked into some hotel rooms a day or two ago, suitcases packed with grenades and bullets. The PM just addressed the nation -- his choice to do it so late in the day -- but personally, I don't think he should have waited this long. A country needs some sense of leadership, and the Congress certainly did not provide it. I'm not even going to talk about our extremely incompetent Home Minister.

The international news channels have some interesting commentary -- they said that the attack has been planned in time for Thanksgiving (as those five stars had dinner events going on) -- because the attacks are geared towards UK and US nationals. Terrorists have been unable to attack Americans and British in their own countries, and the call for people with British/American passports by the terrorists in the beginning has only cemented this idea -- This just shows how pathetic WE are; that terrorists cannot penetrate those countries, but ours, is easier than easy.

The Indian media is doing what it can. The only channel that is pissing me off a little bit is CNN-IBN as it has a huge screen at the back with its anchors placed on chairs in front very stylishly; as if they are covering elections or cricket. And sure enough, they have started opinion polls, and their chat topics, proving once again that they can and will never be a BBC.

Another point is that these terrorists have specifically targeted Jews -- Nariman House -- could be a game changer. Firstly, Americans won't stand for the Jews being targetted, because the American Jews won't. And Israel will be in the mix soon enough. Actually I think we should learn something from the Israeli's -- perhaps tie up with them and take some security training. I'm afraid to say but we don't seem to have well trained, fit, officers in our countries. And now, with senior leadership of the ATS killed in battle, we can only hope the younger bracket is up to the challenge. The police and defense services also need to be paid well so that top officers don't leave. And just like the army chaps, our police need to be physically fit. It's just something we need to stress on as a country. But I am happy to see that the special forces are taking special care to make sure no more civilian lives are lost. About 800 Army personnel, 400 NSGs, 40 Marine commandos, 600 Rapid Action Force personnel besides Mumbai Police officers are engaged in a fierce gun battle with the militants. That is quite a lot of forces, but yet we see no signs of the situation ending.

Cricket has taken the first hit, with the IPL in danger. Foreigners in other parts of the country are apparently fleeing, and national elections are no longer going to hinge of the economic meltdown. And on the other side, Pakistan has offered a "hotline" from Delhi to Islamabad so that we can share information. And this offer comes in the wake of Zardari claiming all Pakistanis have a piece of India in their heart. And while we have newspapers filled with Zardari's praises, we suddenly get news of these infiltrators coming in by sea from Pakistan. So what is it? Are they as bad as us when it comes to intelligence or just turning a blind eye? Every time we feel closer relations with Pakistan might serve the sub-continent, there are reminders that our neighbours are not to be trusted. It would be something if the government and army of Pakistan is completely unaware of these outfits running in their country. (No offence to my friends there, but my country is my country).

"Deccan Mujahiddin" is the alias for which group, we don't know. Experts are saying this is not Al Qaeda as there are no suicide bombers, but the outfit can change tactics, can't they? Lashkar is involved, apparently, having sent an email from Russia as a red herring. A terrorist just caught (5:38pm) seems to be a wanted Lashkar operative. Is this attack against India, is it against the visitors in India? There is still doubt, obviously. And I hope some RSS, VHP, BJP leaders have the presence of mind to call out to Hindu outfits and ask them NOT to plan attacks against Muslims as a retaliation (as the perpetrators are suspected to be all Muslim at the moment). I wonder if anyone is even capable of that.

My mother just said that she hopes the channels don't harp about the "spirit of Bombay" tomorrow -- instead stress on the point that people are ANGRY and demand action. It's this resilient spirit that allows our politicians to get back to doing nothing very much. And on the other hand, my friend Kundan informs me that many posters online seem to think that Narendra Modi is the man who can protect India from the terrorists.

I'll check in later; probably update this post itself.

Meanwhile my dog is suspicious that the piece of chicken momo I have given her is not as exciting as the one I am eating. Sometimes, I'd like to be her.


Arnab has rightly pointed out that in this attack the terrorists have exposed themselves in this attack -- walking around freely -- the "audacity" of this attack. Watching live news is a little tough because there is so much action -- and we are keeping track of a number of locations -- that putting together a coherent sequence of events is tough. But the NSG and RAF are in the hotels, and fire and grenades can both still be heard, which to me in insane.

Ratan Tata was on TV earlier, and was being asked some really stupid questions like "have you figured out how much damage?" It's still going on for heaven's sake. But he did point out that it seems the terrorists have very intimate knowledge of the buildings.

Advani has landed in Bombay, and immediately starting saying that this attack was worse than anything that happened during the NDA government. As the news pointed out, there had been rumours that the PM and Leader of Opposition (Advani) would fly down together -- much needed symbol of solidarity -- but it hasn't happened. In fact, Advani has shown himself to be rather petty and small minded by playing the blame-game while people are still fighting for their lives.

Suhel Seth came on Times Now and gave a very passionate and correct speech, talking about how pathetic our politicians are. He said that the people at the hotel, hospitals etc are the one who have stood by the people, not the politicians. And that we should delay elections, call a national emergency, and solve this terror crisis. I'm so glad that we are finally getting ANGRY -- Seth also pointed out that our political system has not allowed us to reward our heroes. And he said the same thing my mother did, that Bombay should not rebound in the morning, it should retaliate. Damn straight.

Maybe business houses and rich persons should get together, and without any strings attached, donate money for the armed services, to be used for training, uniforms

But away from the emotional feeling of it all; we need to discuss reasons. My uncle, a former foreign service man, having served in the Middle East called me to say that it probably ties up to the fact that Mulla Omar had recently announced that they were going to go after countries that sent troops to Afghanistan (therefore the call for US/UK citizens). Also, Pakistan and Afghanistan has been increasingly unhappy with our role in Afg; started with bombing at our Kabul Embassy -- this might just be a natural progression. Also, these terrorists have no escape plan, they are ready to die for their cause, so jihads. And they are very well trained. Some great points, and I've tried to contact Times Now, because perhaps the discussion needs to get away from the emotional to the practical now.

Another point he made was about the terrorists coming by sea; at this point it is not very clear where the two ships seized by the navy came from. Reports suggest that to be in Indian waters they had requested permission through normal channels. But from a cell phone left behind by one of the terrorists, one thing is clear -- calls are coming in from Pakistan. I went to the Dawn website to see what they had to say about Bombay, but their report made no mention of who is responsible for the attacks.

Actually, Times Now now (9:26pm) has a security expert from London -- Bob Ayers -- on, and he said that this attack has nothing to do with India the way the Madrid bombings had to do with Spain -- it has to do with attacking westerners everywhere they go. Morderchai Kedar, a Counter Terrorism Expert from Israel says that India needs to get to the root of it, fast, and figure out who sent them. Bob Ayers said that a period of confusion and false reporting always prevails, and that to suggest that Pakistan might be behind this is wrong and dangerous. A chronology of what happened has to be made, and when factual information is at hand, and to speculate on solutions before the facts have been ascertained is unprofessional.

Meanwhile Barkha Dutt is talking to Shobha De.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Something to talk about.

Watching TV, as is my calling in life -- apparently -- I got thinking. I was watching Sreenivasan Jain on Witness (NDTV) explaining the Malegaon blasts -- the Sadhvi and that insane gang who find the RSS inept and corrupt (as they apparently took money from the ISI??). Last I checked, the RSS, VHP and Shiv Sena were pretty much the bottom of the barrel when it came to non-Muslim extremism of any kind in this country, so I kept wondering, who the hell is going to take Abhinav Bharat's place, thinking them to be neutered? Lord.

We can't run away from the fact that we are a predominantly Hindu country and that there will always be factions who will prey on minorities to solidify their status. They will want support by inciting fear of the unknown, by playing identity politics, instead of actually doing society any good. That is old school politics and should end. My father and I had an argument the other day about the "Indian Obama". He said that Mayawati could be compared to him, for the reason that both have had a decent education and are minorities. I vehemently refused, because I said, Obama never asked for votes because he is Black, while Mayawati's entire rise was based on her identity as a Dalit. The day someone in India shoots to power because of the vision they have for the country, is the day we can compare them to Obama.

I see reports in the paper everyday that Obama's election -- plank and use of multimedia -- is inspiring politicians back home. That's good. But think about this: I read in a column in Mint the other day that India has always aspired for greatness, but never really done anything about it. I was mulling over that thought (I suppose the nuclear deal was a recent effort to acquire greatness), and I started watching late night TV.

My ex-colleague, Akash Banerjee, now with Headlines Today, was hosting a show called Ground Zero. The question he was asking was: after Sadhvi Pragya hit the headlines, has the conversation in Madhya Pradesh become about religion and not development? The usual suspects were there; Advani crying about Pragya's alleged abuse in jail, and Rahul Gandhi trying to remind people that the BJP only promises "temples" "terrorism" but never develops. And to be fair, if you look at the national media (save a few half an hour specials thrown in), the entire public discourse is around Sadhvi Pragya.

But the Indian Express carried a small piece about the inside details of the MP election. They said that speeches about Sadhvi Pragya and gang is left to the national leaders, the local leaders find that they cannot deviate from development issues. People understand that they need water, roads, food more than they need fluffy pillows for Sadhvi Pragya. It was most telling -- and reminded me of last years UP elections where Mayawati was doing all her campaigning on the ground, away from the glare of national media -- and that's why when she won, everyone in the Delhi studios were zapped, because for the most part, they had been on a different tangent. And again, reports have been published that it seems the BSP is going to gain in the state of MP. So again, it seems, not for anything the BSP has actually managed, it will be because everyone else has lost focus of why they are actually standing for those elections.

So, then, a question -- do we need to settle the question of Hindutva once and for all, or are we, Dilli-valas, so enamoured with the discourse that we fail to see that during election time, people are getting increasingly wary of these issues and rather focus on development issues. And aren't we media savvy enough by now (NDTV is celebrating a 20 yr anniversary for heavens sake) to admit to ourselves that talking heads in all out prime time debate shows (perhaps not Times Now as much, I find Arnab Goswami quite good) are increasingly pointless.

There was a time in the US (well, it still continues) that politics was being carried out by news anchors and talking heads. They came, they spoke, they argued: all about the issues they deemed important, and the audience was ... captive. The Jon Stewart "Spin Alley" moment was a turning point in my head (watch this) and ultimately, this election, you had people finally desperate to hear something substantial -- and Obama was the right man at the right now.

We in India are falling victim to the same issues. We don't need Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Rudy Pratap Singh's views on every issue, every night. We need some real people, experts, people from the states about which we are talking. News is increasingly going the spin alley way. In fact, this US election, an anchor called Campbell Brown hit the big time, mostly because she said, its one thing about giving everyone equal time, but its quite another to hear someone tell you its raining outside when its not, and not call them on it. (I like Arnab because he seems to do that. Perhaps not sitting in Delhi and therefore meeting politicians socially allows him this distance.)

Well, MP results will be out. Then we can see what is true: is talk of Sadhvi Pragya more important than talk about development? Are national leaders simply on a different tangent than local ones? Are our English channels really having a meaningful dialogue?

Watch and learn.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Bollywood Dynasties

It's a tiny feature that has gone on air many many many months after it was done.. but I wanted to share..

You can skip to about 4:20 but the first story is really interesting (perhaps more than ours!!) -- but the second is something I worked on, and it's just a fun little snippet of an industry I almost never think about.

Hello world, blog will be back to business soon!

Friday, November 07, 2008

Black is the new President, Bitch!

Trust The Daily Show to get it right. In the run up to the American elections, people so busy trying to brand Obama as a socialist or a radical, everyone seemed to forget he was Black. In a way, that is amazing. African-Americans have done exceptionally well in many fields in the US, including politics, but in that sphere, the same glass ceiling (due to the Bradley effect or what have you) applied. Not anymore. Not anymore.

Martin Luther King's dream has been realised. Once the announcement was made, suddenly anchors on every channel left Ayers and Acorn and his middle name and all that other rubbish, and realised what a historic day it was for Black people. In McCains victory speech he acknowledged this -- perhaps its all the better he lost. Otherwise he would have been the man who came in the way of the equality of the races, and as a symbol he would have been hated by history. One of the bad guys. When McCain spoke I wondered if he realised that he was a footnote in history, because it didn't really matter who stood against Obama; I feel this was a time that just had to come. The culmination of the civil rights movement. If Beyonce and JayZ (?) can own the music industry, and everything Will Smith touches turns to gold... politics was next. (Especially when politics and media are so intertwined in the US. Infotainment at its best).

The New York Time's Judith Warner wondered if children will realise the sheer enormity of this singular achievement. Come up with all the reasons for this victory -- economy, Bush, a new message, a younger generation finding a voice in Obama -- that he is Black is the symbolic achievement we will remember for decades to come. We will all remember where we were when Obama was elected President. It has touched us all on a personal level. Just look at the Facebook generation. Practically everyones status had been changed to hail Obama.

It was fantastic.

PS - If you don't know where the title of this post came from, please watch Saturday Night Live sketches online. This election cycle they have been fantastic, starting from the primaries.

PPS And for an analysis of the Obama factor that I made over a year ago (and I think is quite correct), go here.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Mutually Suspicious

You might expect me to talk about the US presidential elections, and ordinarily I would. Obama is likely to win according to me, but lets wait another day! If I was in the states right now I think I'd have a nervous breakdown, but luckily I'm not!! (Ok, I'll be honest, unluckily -- I'd have given anything to be part of this election!)

So, to other matters, more important matters. Tehelka carried an interview -- Prakash Sharma, Bajrang Dal leader -- which was very interesting to read. With Hindu-Muslim mutual suspicion out in the open now -- you can no longer point only at Muslim extremists as being the perpetrators of terror in this country -- we need to take a long hard view at how we think.

Now, let me be honest, at the start of the interview, I was nodding in agreement with a few things he said. But they made me think, question myself.

"See, no matter what you say, the basic thing is, Bharat is a Hindu rashtra and because it is a Hindu rashtra, Muslims and Christians can live with such ease here. What Muslims are doing in India today, they will not be able to do in any Christian country. Similarly, what the Christians are doing here, they will not be able to do in a Muslim country."

Is that true, I wondered. I have friends in many Muslim countries, from the Middle East to Pakistan, and perhaps he is right. After all, it is our very secular nature that allows people to do as they want. But then again, I've met people who've come from places ranging from Doha to Dubai.. and no real complaints about their lifestyles as such if they are not Muslim. Perhaps I don't have knowledge at the grassroots level, but considering the violence against minorities in our country, I don't think we can really boast of this secularism any more.

But the more I read, the more I wanted to understand the mind of a Hindu nationalist.

"See, Hindus believe god can have any name, and the paths to god can vary. We have 32 crore gods and goddesses; it won’t hurt us if one more Mohammaden or Christian is added to the ranks. So what difficulty do Indian Muslims have in saying they are “Mohammamed panthi Hindus” or Indian Christians have in saying they are “Christ-believing Hindus”? After all, this is a Hindu nationality. "

He giveth and taketh away in one breath! Because he already calls them Indian Muslims and Indian Christians! What is with this insane loyalty test Hinduism espouses? Agni pariksha anyone?

He made it amply clear in the interview that he will justify his own Bajrang Dal's violence by any means, but anything other than that is to be condemned. Even when talking about conversions, and why Dalits convert due to the extreme caste system in the country, he admits Hindu society has its faults, but they are not so bad.

"No, this is the problem with the secular media. What is so complex about the issue? There was an agreement; Kashmir was given to India. If Nehru had not kept the issue in his hand and had left it to Sardar Patel, there would be no issue today. If these eunuch governments would give up their impotency, there would be no issue today. I am neither concerned about the BJP nor any other party. It is because of the impotency of our political parties that the Kashmir issue is not sorted out and has got so out of hand. Why do they get such a free hand? They go over to Pakistan and make friends with them, and we sit and feed them biryani? They should be crushed, not treated like sons-in-law!"

Ah, the secular media and Kashmir. Just remember this, I will come back to it later.

"I am talking of the whole secular spectrum. Tell me, what is wrong in our opposition to Husain? Muslims burn buses demonstrating against Taslima, so you send her out of the country. Why are you defending Husain? What is the need to show Sita minus her clothes? Will he paint Mother Mary naked? Will he paint his own mother naked? I say Husain should be punished in such a way no one in his family will remember how to paint seven generations later. If he ever comes here, I assure you there will be a spontaneous reaction to him. "

It is a good point though. These guys started harassing Husain ages ago, but they are not alone in violent protests over religious idols. Thats universal. But this whole "spontaneous reaction" bullshit needs to stop. You're not fooling anyone. It's like in school when they told you that some voluntary activity was compulsary.

"How do you justify your demographic insecurities? We are a billion plus. Minorities barely make up 18 percent. Orissa has 95 percent Hindus –
Don’t look at it at a national level. Go to the particular district and see. There used to be a few thousand Christians there, now there are several lakhs. Why did only particular portions of India become Pakistan and Bangladesh? Because they were Muslim majority areas. Why are there secessionist movements in Christian dominated regions of the north-east? In the future, there might be fresh talk of partitions. They will raise their populations then ask for partitions. You will not understand these things. We do not oppose Muslims per se, we only oppose statements like Abdullah Bukhari who said recently that they will create such a movement, things will be worse than 1947. "

How do you ever manage population control in an environment like this? And its such a myopic view from a leader who rather have a thosand hungry, poor, illiterate followers than plan for their successful future.

The point that he considers every demand of the Muslims as anti-national. Even their demands of being treated equally, equal opportunity -- everything is considered anti-Hindu by him. So where is the space for debate?

"You will find the only reason the talks broke down so totally is because Shri Shahbuddin made that incendiary statement: “What proof do you have Ram was born here?” If you question our very identity, the basic fount of our culture -- Did Ram exist or not -- what discussion can there be? Let them take the initiative on anything. Let them amicably give us the three birthplaces, and there will be no more fight. Does any Muslim leader have the courage and statesmanship to initiate talk on this? "

AKA this conversation will only work if you agree we are right.

BUT his comments on secular media being great apologetics and in fact doing a disservice to the country made me think. It's not that his views are totaly baseless, its that they are an extreme version of what they should be. Agreed, there is a deep divide over Ayodhya (and he mentions this funny statement by a Muslim who said, if my baby is born in a Boeing 747 will I take the plane home? Hee.) and perhaps he is such a staunch Hindu that he does feel threatened by other religious groups being present, but his outlet is violence, spontaneous as it may be, and thats the problem.

But he did mention how secular media/people react. It made me think about a email doing the rounds, claiming to prove who actually owns the Indian media. It says that there is a lot of Middle Eastern money coming in that wants to ensure that the media is sympathetic to Muslims more than Hindus -- thus the secular bias. The same claim is made for international channel tie-ups, that are funded by Christian groups in their countries. How true this is, I don't know. But its out there.

Now, this Hindu-Muslim/Secular puzzle is made even more complicated if you take Kashmir in the middle. To give Kashmir autonomy would encourage other secessionist, so a no-no. But the alternative is to let them continue living under guard. And with Kashmir, where the Muslims could not decide if they wanted to stay with India or Pakistan, we equate their struggle with the rest of the Muslims in India (who wanted to stay, and struggle for their place within Indian society), and so neither can be addressed correctly? Am I reading this right because it is just so complicated!

Anyway, I read this piece by Pankaj Mishra in Outlook. He said a few interesting things too. "For years the overtly Islamic and violent aspect of the insurgency in the Valley kept many secular Indian liberals from visibly sympathising with the plight of the Kashmiri Muslims." And Prakash Sharma's answer to that is that the media has not highlighted the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits (though Tehelka says it is working on such a story). I've heard my dad, a KP although my family was already in Delhi at the time of the exodus, complain of the same. Why is one story lost in the service of the other? Or perhaps its not lost "in the service of the other" but simply waiting to be found?

Does Kashmir hold the key to solving these problems? Can it be a catalyst? I'm throwing the question open guys, cause I want to know too. What do you think?

Are we also caught up in "the idea of India" (much like the idea of the "American Dream"?) he asks. Great question I think. Because we keep claiming India is this, it is that, but its not really, and you just need to put on the TV to understand that simple fact. Everyone seems to hate each other, mutual suspicion. And this common love of cricket and Bollywood that we seem to find so cute, to me, isn't all that cute anymore.