Enough is enough, act now

"Enough is enough,” says Shobha De, Mumbai-based writer and celebrity, in front of TV cameras. Television channels broadcast debates and talk shows where celebrities spoke, one after the other, blaming politicians and intelligence agencies. I whole-heartedly agree with them.

Of course politicians have to be blamed for this carnage. They shied away from taking firm decisions while terrorists sprayed bullets, chucked hand grenades, set fire to hotel rooms killing nearly 200 people, including some of the bravest police officers who risked their lives for the country.

Indeed, enough is enough. Shobha De and other celebrities should stop venting their anger against politicians and intelligence agencies. It is these celebrities, the upper and middle classes of society that rarely turn up at polling booths to cast their ballot. So do citizens who have neglected to exercise their civic responsibility have the right to condemn democratically elected politicians?

Yes, like all others these celebrities pay taxes and they have a right to cry foul, but before talking about their rights they also need to take seriously their responsibilities and duties as citizens of India. Let them first exercise their franchise, use the legendary might of the pen or clout with the masses as well as charm to change the political leadership or even join the political mainstream in order to provide an alternative to the existing options available to people.

Will these celebrities contest elections or at least campaign for change? Or maybe visit rundown slums and travel on bumpy roads to remote villages to convince voters about the need for change? Perhaps, at best, they will choose to join debates on English-language media, which is watched or read by barely one percent of India’s over one billion population, and a very small proportion of that percentage actually votes.

A report published in The Times of India online edition on 5 October 2004 says: “More importantly, as historical data shows, less number of Mumbaikars, on an average, exercise their franchise than their brethren elsewhere in the state. In the 1999 polls, 60.95 per cent of the electorate Maharashtra wide came out to vote; but the percentage of polling was much less in Mumbai and suburban Mumbai seats. In most such seats, polling was less than 48 per cent, and in many seats less than even 44 per cent...”

So these are our ‘’Mumbaikars’’ who choose to stay home on the polling day and later blame the elected government for inefficiency. Hopefully, in the coming elections, the turnout will be much higher, and that our celebrities will take the lead in that.

The other question is why were these celebrities and intellectuals not shouting from the rooftops when some 200 people were killed in Mumbai in 2006 or when innocent people were massacred in Assam last month? These attacks were far away -- not at places where they frequented – and the victims were not people they hung out with. This time however, the terrorists have attacked the haunts of the rich and famous. So celebrities are horrified: the terror is closer to home, almost at their doorstep.

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Most Indians would agree with Aravind Adiga, India’s latest literary poster boy, that there is a need for change in leadership. He says in his article published in ‘The Times’ of London that “The failure of the rulers of Bombay and India to anticipate or prevent this terror attack has been complete."

Indians too desire a change but what choice does the country have? It has three main options: the Congress and its allies, who have failed miserably in controlling terror; the BJP and its friends, who demolished the Babri Masjid down and failed to act after Parliament came under attack; and finally, the third front concoction, which during I.K. Gujral’s regime ordered RAW to downgrade its operations in Pakistan. Indians have very limited options before them right now. Does Adiga have any suggestions?

Enough is enough. The verdict being handed out on Indian television channels is unambiguous: the intelligence agencies have failed miserably and the Director of the Intelligence Bureau and the chief of RAW owe a public apology to the country. Clearly, the implication is that these agencies failed in their duty to keep the nation informed of possible security threats – through the media!

As it turns out, the intelligence agencies had warned Ratan Tata, the owner of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, about a possible impending attack – something the corporate tycoon admitted in his interview with CNN. So, it appears, they had done their job. Perhaps some segments of the media believe the agencies still owe an apology for not holding a press conference when they got the tip off about the attack?

Now to compensate for their grave mistake, perhaps the intelligence agencies should provide the media with contact details of Lashkar-e-Taiba’s head of India operations so journalists can interview him on their TV channels? One might recall that’s what they did with Ravi Pujari, who claimed responsibility for the attack on film-maker Mahesh Bhatt’s office in 2006. TV channels contacted Pujari in Australia to get his version and ran live interviews with him. So why not with the Lashkar too?

Indeed enough is enough. It’s time for Indians to rise up against inept, incompetent leadership. Take to the streets demanding better salaries and perks for our soldiers who lay down their lives almost every day – not just in the commercial capital Mumbai but from Kashmir to Kanyakumari – to protect us. It’s time to defeat forces which continue to divide the country in the name of caste, creed and religion even in the 21st century, to respond to every terrorist incident and not just when it’s closer to home, and finally, to discharge our duties as responsible citizens and not just demand our rights.

The writer is a conflict analyst who has served in Sri Lanka, Kosovo and several other countries. He currently works with the Security Watch of the Zurich-based International Relations and Security Network.