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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 30, July 16, 2011

Wages of Drift


Wednesday 20 July 2011, by SC


Terror has returned to Mumbai. As The Times of India wrote bringing out the trauma of the people residing in the premier metropolis, the country’s commercial and industrial nerve-centre,

No other city in the world has been the target of as many serial terror attacks and bombings as Mumbai, which went through the agony in 1993, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2008 and now July 13, 2011. On Wednesday evening, three serial bomb blasts in the span of ten minutes ripped through three of the busiest hubs in the city—Zaveri Bazar, Opera House and Dadar—at rush hour, killing 21 people and injuring 130.

Mumbaikars are naturally overtaken by a mixture of grief, sorrow, anguish and anger. They are sick and tired of hearing hackneyed phrases like the ‘spirit of Mumbai’. Life is back to normal on July 14 after the previous evening’s blasts and the killings that followed. Or so it seems. Actually the citizens have returned to work because they do not have any other option. But deep within, apart from the misery and pain the successive terror strikes have left, there is a silent resolve to bring an end to such terror acts once and for all. This is where the words of BJP patriarch L.K. Advani (‘we must have zero tolerance to terror’) and Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackery (‘Mumbaikars themselves must ensure their own safety’ without depending on the government) strike the right chord in tune with the current sentiments of the city’s inhabitants. (However, whatever their pronouncements, the ulterior designs of these leaders cannot possibly be overlooked given past experience.)

This is precisely where the sane observation of Dr Farooq Abdullah, the former J&K CM now a member of the Manmohan Singh Cabinet at the Centre, assumes undeniable importance: “The perpetrators of this heinous crime are those who do not want the India-Pakistan negotiations to succeed.” He did not fail to point to the fact that just as in 26/11 (that is, the direct Pakistan-sponsored terror strikes in Mumbai in November 2008), this time too the terror acts were committed with the objective of foiling the meeting between the two countries’ Foreign Ministers that has been fixed.

While the authorities are as yet tightlipped on the identity and motivation of the terrorists who struck in Mumbai on July 13, the fresh serial blasts in the city are widely believed to be the handiwork of the Indian Mujahideen whose links with the terror-instigators in Pakistan are quite well known. Even otherwise there is a general view, based on the history of recent terror strikes, that terror attacks in various regions of the country, and Mumbai in particular, have a Pakistani connection given the depths of animosity towards India in the Pakistani military establishment, especially its intelligence wing, the ISI. And as far as the serial blasts in the city on July 13 are concerned, they reveal coordinated strikes—the first explosion at Zaveri Bazar was at 6.45 pm, followed by the second at the Opera House a minute later and the third outside Kabutarkhana at a bus stop in Dadar around 7.00 pm—by high explosive timer devices, similar to the ones carried out and employed by the IM earlier.

The fresh terror strikes in Mumbai are predictably being exploited politically by the Opposition. And why shouldn’t they when, whatever assertion the Maharashtra CM makes regarding the State’s ‘better preparedness’ this time, one gets the distinct impression of a policy of drift both at the Centre and in Maharashtra as regards the governments there and the administrations they run on taking any action on this score? The terrorists have fully exploited this drift to their advantage while carrying out the strikes. To that extent it is symptomatic of a policy failure as some in the Opposition have alleged. That does not mean there was no intelligence failure. The Union Home Minister has tried to refute the charge of intelligence failure by affirming that there was no intelligence input regarding the July 13 blasts that the State or Central authorities had ignored. But if indeed there was no intelligence input on that count, that could also be construed as intelligence failure which Chidambaram is denying. (The Mumbai underworld is learnt to have undergone a qualitative change of late with new faces replacing the old ones as was conveyed during the recent slaying of intrepid journalist J. Dey in broad daylight in the heart of the city; to what extent this—alongside the underworld’s links with the police—was responsible for the latest terror blasts is also another major issue that needs to be thoroughly probed. But would it be done?)

Be that as it may, the policy drift on the part of the Manmohan Singh Government is reflected in other areas as well. The latest reshuffle of the Union Council of Ministers by the PM provides one such pointer. The PM had earlier promised “expansive” changes. Thereafter he had stated that the shuffling of Ministers as also induction of new faces alongside removal of deadwood would be “structural” in nature. In effect what has eventually taken place is neither “expansive” nor “structural”. It does not even reflect any “substantive” alteration as the PM has claimed after the exercise on July 12. The basic thrust of governance remains the same as Finance, Home, Defence and External Affairs have been kept outside the purview of any change. Agriculture, Industry and Commerce too have been left undisturbed. The expectation of bold measures to tackle runaway price rise has been belied. Nonetheless, the inclusion of V. Kishore Chandra Deo into the Cabinet as the Minister of Tribal Affairs and Panchayati Raj is welcome only if he is allowed to use his vast experience in tackling the Maoist insurgency in the tribal heartland off-the-beaten-track. But would he be permitted to do so?

The most disturbing piece of news is the shifting of Jairam Ramesh from Environment and Forests. As The Hindu has editorially observed,

He (Ramesh) is one Minister who has distin-guished himself in a vital and challenging area of governance—by studying environmental and climate change questions seriously, interacting with experts as well as the wider public, standing up to pressure from special interests, corporate as well as political, acting boldly and trans-parently, and doing valuable agenda-building. The government can argue that Mr Ramesh’s contribution has been rewarded by his elevation from Minister of State (with independent charge) to Cabinet rank and by his being entrusted with the big responsibility of Rural Development. But that argument would be ingenuous. One hopes that Jayanthi Natarajan, Mr Ramesh’s successor, will emulate his example and not allow the momentum he has built on key environmental and climate change issues to dissipate.

As regards the change in the Law Ministry (from Veerappa Moily to Salman Khursheed), one has to wait and see if the government’s anticipation of this being a change for the better (after the series of setbacks it suffered in the Supreme Court) comes out to be true or not. But Moily’s open charge of “vested interests” opposed to his reforms in the Ministry having effected the change in the Ministry should not be taken lightly. If it is indeed correct, that would further establish Manmohan Singh’s opposition to any bold step and his abject reliance on the status quo: once again it is drift that takes the centre-stage.

A series of mishaps on the railway tracks (the latest being the ones in UP and Assam, the one in UP taking a toll of 68 lives even as Army officers engaged in rescue work claim to have removed 80 bodies) had focused attention on the absence of a wholetime Railway Minister for long. Hopefully the new entrant into the Cabinet, Dinesh Trivedi, would fill the vacuum and devote full-time to this vital Ministry free from the encumbrances his pre-decessor had to encounter while in office. However, most regrettable is that a major Ministry like Water Resources has been handed over to Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal as additional charge! This only shows the priorities of the PM and his team running UPA-II.

The people would definitely draw their own conclusions from such a lack-lucture endeavour to refurbish the image of UPA-II. The nature of this effort has been brilliantly captured by the Hindustan Times in its frontpage headline of the lead story: “New Faces But No Facelift”. Drift has been enthroned once more. And its consequences are not difficult to foresee.

July 14 S.C.

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