M J Akbar is one of India’s best-known journalists and commentators, someone with a deep insight into the Indian people and their mindset. In this first-person, as-told-to piece, Akbar discusses the Mumbai attacks and their relevance for India.
Many people forget that India is a tough nation. Toothless leaders have turned India into a soft nation. People forget that India has fought back Muslim terrorism in Kashmir; Sikh terrorism in Punjab, Christian terrorism in Nagaland and Hindu terrorism in Assam, and amongst the Naxalites [Images].
We have had everything thrown at the Indian nation State. Still, we have stood up. The people of India have shown the courage and ability to believe in their nation and to fight back. But the completely impotent leadership of five years have turned a tough country into a soft State.
I am very sad. I keep feeling that if they protect India as they protect their leaders — whether it is Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images] or Congress President Sonia Gandhi [Images] — I think I would be safe. Today, India’s leaders are safe and India is in panic.
On what India’s response should be:
India’s proper reaction would be possible if we understand the extent of the disease.
If the disease is cancer, you can’t apply band aid. After making a complete mess of security issues for five years by asking Shivraj Patil [Images] to go finally we may have a home minister who doesn’t comb his hair and change his clothes. But we want something more than that. If it is cancer, we need chemotherapy, a much more serious exercise. It needs a legislative and executive framework. It needs political mobilisation. People are numbed.
The Indian people have no leadership. You have a prime minister. Did you see him when he addressed the nation? Nobody knew if he was addressing the nation or having a cup of tea?
He looked serious, but he didn’t talk to us about our anger and about our anguish. I think this administration is tone deaf to the anguish of the people. They just cannot understand what the people are going through. They just don’t understand our pain or our anger. The most important thing is that, perhaps, we have politicised not only the instruments of the State like the police but we have also politicised the understanding of the nature of the problem.
I think the very first thing to do is to ensure security so that it prevents the next attack. If any attack takes place under someones job should go. Don’t come to me with alibis.
On the terrorists getting local support:
I am an Indian Muslim and I am very proud of both, being an Indian and a Muslim. I do not see any contradictions. This is my land and I have nowhere else to go.
But can I say because I am an Indian Muslim that no Indian Muslim is involved? Can you, because you are a Hindu, say that no Hindu is involved? We have to behave like Indians first. Not as a Muslim or as a Hindu first. Because we need Hindu votes and Muslim votes and because this government thinks that it needs Muslim votes so it has been in complete denial.
Do you think that these people came across from Pakistan and had no support in Mumbai?
It is not possible. It was a huge operation. Ten people hit nine places and you killed nine of them. You want to say that they went from place to place? Who knows some of them must have slipped away to create new sleeper cells to hit us six months later.
They are hiding things. I would like to believe that there was an underworld connection. Because, Karachi and Mumbai are also linked by drug smuggling. The culture of criminals is aggression. It comes naturally to them. It is not easy for you and I to become aggressive, however angry we are. It does not come naturally to us. These are people who are trained psychologically in aggression. They have no respect for the State. They have no love for the country. And they have no respect for authority.
Why? Because the only face of authority is the corrupt policeman. The criminal gives money in the morning and money in the evening. Why should he have respect for somebody he gives bribes to? For the guy from the underworld his understanding of the Indian State and authority is corruption. He has no patriotism to stop him. Why would he not join hands with the terrorists? In any case, he belongs to another world. We have not even begun to address and discuss this.
On the Pakistan factor
I am tired of giving Pakistan a long rope on some excuse or the other. Everybody is saying this will happen if we do this, that will happen if we do this. Our relations with Pakistan will go, then, let them go. What has our relations with Pakistan brought us except violence and terror? Why should we be in charge of saving Pakistan? For what? Every time they turn around and they say they want evidence. Now, finally we have evidence.
I have been an editor for 35 years from the age of 23. From that time on, since the days of General Zia-ul Haq, I have been hearing ‘Pakistan is asking for evidence’. We asked for withdrawal of their support to the movement for Khalistan, they said, ‘Oh, we don’t know anything about it.’ On Kashmir, they kept repeating where is the evidence. Benazir Bhutto [Images] came, she asked for evidence. Nawaz Sharif came, he asked for evidence. I think Pervez Musharraf [Images] asked for less evidence. Now again, they are asking for evidence.
There is a terrorist in Mumbai, captured and arrested. How much more evidence do you want? If what he is saying is not evidence, then how can you get more evidence?
This government is in its 11th hour. Now they will bluff the people to protect their votes. There is no time left for them. The agony of departure will be hard from this government.
On the reaction in the West
The US and Britain have a vested interest in telling India to look within. Why? When Americans die then they can send their air force 7,000 miles and bomb every country to smithereens. But when Indians die, they tell us no, no, you must be patient. You must act like a swami and a yogi. Why? Is an American life more precious than an Indian life? Why should we keep listening to them? But we have a government that keeps listening to them all the time. We don’t get tough.
The last time we got tough was after the attack on Parliament. We took some tough actions under Operation Parakram and then there was a certain lull. Three years ago, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was able to tell President George W Bush [Images] that there are no terrorists amongst Indian Muslims. That means that lull continued.
Pakistan must be made to realise that it will have to pay a heavy price. Not necessarily through war, but a heavy price will have to be paid in loss in trade, in cancellation of orders and other engagements. They should pay a heavy price in terms of people to people relations. I am not saying you can freeze a relationship to death, but the message must go out that if there is a crime there will be a penalty. You just can’t get away with it.
Let the Pakistan government cooperate with us. But look at how the Pakistan government has buckled down and we are sitting here whimpering.
They want to send some lowly officers to India. For what? Even Pakistan is treating the Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi government with total contempt. They know how weak it is.
Delink Hindu-Muslim relations and Pakistan
Look, you must not confuse the Pakistan issue with the Indian Muslims issue. Their so-called alienation or their economic deprivation is not linked to the issue of Pakistan.
Indian Muslims have nothing to do with Pakistan. They have absolutely no sympathy for Pakistan. They know that Pakistan was the biggest mistake committed in the history of Indian Muslims. They know it. You can ask anyone in Baroda, Bihar or Mumbai. They know how they are suffering the backlash of all the consequences of cross-border terrorism.
Today, they fear retribution from the government, they fear retribution from popular disenchantment and anger. They feel helpless. They feel afraid.
We must understand finally that it is not so much the ‘local people’, it is the local underworld that is involved in anti-India activities. In 1993, who were involved in terrorism? The underworld. Why have you not done anything about it? The State turns a blind eye to the police and corruption. I don’t know how many readers smoke hashish and other stuff, but I am accusing them of cross-border terrorism. Drugs come to India from Afghanistan via Karachi.
What we can do as individuals
If whoever is responsible for protecting the nation fails, then he or she should not be allowed to continue in power. That is the toughest and sharpest message we can give. You can tell that you may be a soft State, but we are a hard people and we are hard voters.
We are not going to forgive you for your lies and deception and for your waffling. How many blasts do we need to understand that? When Jaipur [Images], Ahmedabad [Images], Mumbai and Delhi [Images] happened no one who was genuinely guilty was caught.
We have to understand now that corruption has eaten away vitals of this nation. It is the biggest danger to the security of India. It is not just the case of some spectrum being sold to someone by some minister in. Everyone who is corrupt get out!
It Is a failure all around. We have to be extremely practical and pragmatic. There is great deal to be depressed about as an Indian. Frankly speaking, I feel very angry and upset. I am never upset by the behaviour of our enemies. I am only upset by the betrayal of those I trust.