Capitalizing Calamity: 26/11 And The Jingoist Politics By Anand Teltumbde
Class Character of 26/11
India faced more than 4,100 terrorist attacks between 1970 and 2004, accounting for about 12,540 fatalities, according to the Global Terrorism Database, maintained by the University of Maryland and the US National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). It makes an average of almost 360 fatalities per year. These fatalities peaked in 1991 and 1992, when 1,184 and 1,132 individuals (respectively) were killed in such incidents. Of course, the official figures in India are much higher than this count and place the toll at around 70,000 deaths. In 26/11, as per the latest figures, there were in all 163 casualties and 293 wounded, which may not make it particularly special. The earlier attack on 11 July 2006 in the form of serial blasts at seven places in local trains, the life line of Mumbai, executed within a short time of 11 minutes, the death toll was far higher at 200 and 714 wounded. In terms of potential, if one may say so, the 2001 attack on the Parliament of India in New Delhi, symbolizing our national sovereignty, in which 5 terrorists, 6 police and 1 civilian were killed was far more perilous than the 26/11 attack. Why then 26/11 alone is singled out as ‘the attack on India’ and is projected as India’s 9/11?
The only distinguishing factor in 26/11 attack is that it is the first time that the elite establishments symbolized by the hotels Taj and Trident were targeted. In terms of casualties, about 61 persons were killed in these two hotels and balance 102; the single biggest toll being 58 of ordinary people shot at randomly at the CST station. There were 37 foreigners among those killed. Added to it was the killing of senior IPS police officials like ATS chief Hemant Karkare and Ashok Kamte, the Additional Commissioner of Mumbai Police for the East Region and wounding of Sadanand Date of the same rank. Although, the CST attack lasted for over 30 minutes just a stone throw away from the police posse at the Azad Maidan Police Station, entire resistance effort was directed towards the Taj, Trident and of course Nariman House. Our elitist media also nearly ignored the CST tragedy and focused its attention during and after the attack around these places. After the initial hazy news about the attack on CST and other places, where ordinary people were killed, there was no mention of them. As the earlier attacks wherein mostly ordinary people were killed have been forgotten, this incidence also could have been very well forgotten but for its class content.
Ineptitude of Governance
For more than 60 hours this calamity was transformed by the TV channels into a farce, which was watched by the entire world. The incompetence of the state machinery, whether it was mobilization of the Mumbai Police or the National Security Guards, who were summoned to help the response, at all levels, ministerial and bureaucratic, or at the levels of planning, strategy, or execution, was just glaring. The failure of Mumbai police has been just inexcusable. When the two terrorists shot people at the CST for over 30 minutes, they could have been immobilized there itself only if the police had acted in the manner they are supposed to. It is said that nearly 150 armed policemen had reached the spot within five minutes but they did nothing more than providing a running commentary to their offices. Neither they rushed in and confronted the terrorists nor did they effectively block the exits of the CST. As a result, those two terrorists could easily escape the CST through the TOI-gate via an over bridge to the Cama Hospital, and unleash havoc there while the policemen at the CST kept on informing about continuing gun shots. Whatever happened at the Cama Hospital through Metro cinema and Girgaum chowpaty, including deaths of Karkare, Kamte and Salaskar is directly attributable to this police inaction at the CST.
Another set of terrorists had entered the Nariman House, Taj and Trident. As they entered these places they fired upon people there and took safe position somewhere. Given the fact that the terrorists did not have any demand and obviously wanted to inflict maximum damage, the only possibility was that they killed as many people as they could before they took safe position inside. In this situation, the police could have a strategy to corner them at the places of their hiding and possibly rescue or hold people at their respective places until the former was accomplished. Even for the NSG this was the only viable strategy to operate. Instead, what we find is the utter lack of it and just the display of firepower. The NSG went on unnecessarily exploding hand grenades all over and causing the damage to the structures. Even wearing out the remaining terrorists could have been the intelligent strategy after the people were rescued out. The very haphazard operation that went on for two days only exposed people to terrorists’ bullets and exhibited our incompetence to the world. As the rescued people from these hotels averred, it was the hotel staff that showed more presence of mind, intelligence and bravery than our paid protectors.
It may be interesting to note that this was by far the longest operation of this kind anywhere. There have been many anti-terrorist operations in far more complex cases like hijacking of planes, which were accomplished within minutes or hours by the security forces of other countries without much loss of life. We often deride Pakistan but the effectiveness with which their security forces have dealt with Taliban terror is noteworthy. In a very comparable incident in Pakistan in August 2009, wherein teams of Taliban terrorists in police uniform had entered the security facilities in the eastern city of Lahore, the Pakistan police had gunned down nine terrorists and caught alive one terrorist within less than five hour of operation. Surely, it should prompt us to sit up and evaluate our security capability and learn form the mistakes.
After the incident, the Mumbai police claimed that they had intelligence and had also alerted the Taj management about possibility of such an attack. But the Taj management failed to rebuff their security arrangement. In the July 2006 serial blast incident, they said exactly same thing for railways. This game of externalizing the blame goes on without anybody asking a relevant question as to what they did beyond informing others that they would be attacked. As it stands, we still do not know how many terrorists had really come in, when they came, what logistic support they had, who organized things for them and so on. When the FBI incidentally landed into Headley and Rana and found that they had hand in the attack, we claimed as though we discovered them and created another kind of hype. If it had not been for Tukaram Omble, that humble policeman who caught Kasab alive, taking shower of bullets from his AK56 into his body, we would have been absolutely clueless about even the identity of attackers as we still are about other pertinent details.
Meaning of Martyrdom
It may sound sacrilegious to question the jingoistic manner in conferring martyrdom on the security personnel killed in the terrorist attack. Is it not the duty of the police or NSG to protect people from such attacks? If yes, then are such unfortunate fatalities not just a professional hazard, as much as a fireman exposes himself to blazing fire and faces imminent death or a mining worker faces death in the event of collapsing seam in mines or a health worker faces death from some deadly infection he could contract? How a policeman or a soldier doing his assigned duty becomes different from an ordinary worker silently doing his work in a factory? Any human loss is regrettable but just because policemen are in public eye, their life cannot become more important than that of a humble sanitation worker, who works silently despite all the social ignominy on a pittance of salary and contributes to the health of the country.
The death of a conscientious police officer like Hemant Karkare who exposed the Hindu terrorist network and dared to take action against it shall be mourned by all progressive people but his and his other colleagues accidental felling to the bullets of a terrorist does not make martyrdom. On the contrary, it is worrisome that why only a few officers like Sadanand Date actually took on the terrorists or only Karkare, Kamte and Salaskar rushed to fight them. The police department, like any other organization, has the system of reward and punishment which should take care of these matters. These days with terrorist and extremist phobia whipped up by the ruling classes, huge rewards have been instituted for policemen, which inevitably lead to extra-judicial killings by the latter. Vijay Salaskar, who has reached his ‘martyrdom’, was an encounter specialist, who had killed scores of people in this manner, and contributed to a phenomenon of state terror, arguably one of the sources of terrorism. This context of anti-terror campaign of the government, sourced with huge funds in the hands of police, associated lack of accountability and lure of huge personal pay offs besides promotions should also be taken into account while assessing the police action. As it happens, perhaps the only person who deserved the national applause on 26 November -Tukaram Omble, was rather initially ignored, just because he was a low ranked Asst Sub Inspector.
The political class has effectively capitalized 26/11-tragedy to its own advantage. While there should have been objective assessment of the handling of this incident by the police and the NSG, it grabbed the opportunity to raise the jingoist pitch eulogizing their actions. The scores of hoardings of martyrdom, congregations in name of paying homage, arbitrary distribution of grants to the families of security personnel who have fallen victims, the hyped trial of Ajamal Kasab and its inexplicable prolongation despite his categorical admission of crime, and the associated media hype has created jingoistic passion in people which would effectively blind them to the real issues behind this tragedy as well as other issues of governance. It sounds very normal, but the feudal practice of Ministers arbitrarily distributing largesse to anybody (here, the families of security personnel) without any norm also needs to be questioned. It is not out of genuine humanitarian concern for them, but for their jingoistic political design, that they do so. Jingoism, with essential trappings of patriotism and nationalism has always been the best bet for ruling classes everywhere. For the people, however, jingoism is a veritable measure of fascism.
Anand Teltumbde is a Mumbai based human rights activist and writer