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27 November 2008

On The Verge Of Cataclysm

The return of an old terror strategy will ultimately lead to public defiance of law in India
A terrorist in action

Here he is joined by an accomplice (snaps from a television footage)

Fire engulfs the Taj Palace Hotel

Employees and guests of the Taj Palace Hotel being rescued by a fire crew

Policemen taking position at the site of attack in the Colaba area
All photos above: AFP

A policeman supports an elderly man after assailants opened fire at a Mumbai railway station
Photo: Reuters

Scenes of scare and chaos such as this one were all over the blood-splattered streets of Mumbai last night
Photo: AP

Some victims of the terror strike inside a local hospital
Photo: AFP

Surajit Dasgupta

The shooting spree that the terrorists got into last night in Mumbai, killing more than a hundred citizens and tourists, indicates a possible return of the bloodcurdling days of the modus operandi of Sikh terrorists in the Punjab-Delhi belt of the 1980s. After years of blasting cities across the expanse of India, terrorists have perhaps realised that their stratagy just isn't working, as every targeted city is found to spring back to 'life' right on the next day. Though this is not to endorse the asinine political line of congratulating Indians for being 'resilient', it cannot be denied that the sheer uncertainty of the location of the next possible bombing site might have just made us think that it is futile to take caution. And then, there is this compulsion of fending for our families for which we cannot but stay indoors. Besides, in a bomb blast, the here-and-now sight of a horrifying killer is conspicuous by its absence, thereby making the scene less of a spine-chiller psychologically. The visualisation of a band of gun totters spraying bullets at a crowded market place, on the other hand, would make even a braveheart have second thoughts about venturing out of home. Is this what the "Deccan Mujahideen" — or whosoever the malcontents guilty of the crime are — reckoned before carrying out yesterday's strike? One suspects so, as this line of attack has not been tried by the terrorists for ages in a metropolitan city.

That in no way means that Indians cannot or do not have an answer to the return of the menace of the 1980s' vintage, although the establishment is for sure clueless. Terrorism was defeated in Punjab and so will it be in every other region of the country. It’s good that more and more Muslims are disowning the black sheep in their community. It is good that an RSS would not like to share the stage with an Abhinav Bharat anymore. The Akalis had similarly distanced themselves from the Khalistanis before Punjab saw the return of normalcy. But today’s situation is beyond a politican’s pale. Who cares if the left-of-centre no longer denies Islamic terrorism? (Or is it still living in denial, almost two decades into the scourge?) Who cares if the right-of-centre now says killing innocents (including those who are Muslim!) is criminal?

Now the Indian on the street is not just tired; he is not just impatient; he is now angry. Very angry — with a government that has run out of ideas, with an opposition that is lost in a maze of political U-turns and with the rest of the polity that couldn't care less. The situation is turning more and more bread-earners, hitherto aloof from politics, into politically conscious citizens of the volatile kind. This, rather than being a catharsis, is a cataclysm. When people are angry with a system that does not have a face unlike an individual enemy, they become a law unto themselves. This the state is witnessing in ample measure in the form of lawlessness in every aspect of our quotidian civic lives. From this increasingly lawless society will rise lynch mobs that will not vent their frustration on petty pickpockets, as the scene has been in so many public places so far. Hereon, they may well beat to death any character suspected to be a terrorist. And this would be the gravest consequence of our politicians’ collective callousness. If terrorists too merit some positive words once in their lifetime, it is now. Let’s thank them for jolting us out of our slumber. But no, let’s lament the end of our humanity.

The writer is a mathematician and linguist, now a corporate communicator and has been a science journalist, a teacher and a marketing manager (in reverse chronological order) in his previous vocations

A slip in the first sentence of this blog-post went unnoticed yesterday, conveying a meaning not intended by the writer. It read: "The shooting spree that the terrorists got into last night in Mumbai, killing more than a hundred citizens and tourists, indicates a possible return of the bloodcurdling days of Sikh terrorism in the Punjab-Delhi belt of the 1980s." The error has been corrected. Yesterday's wrong message is regretted.

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Surajit Dasgupta treats no individual, organisation or institution as a holy cow.