Vantage point

Friday, July 28, 2006

Our Own Threshold

Several Indian bloggers have written approvingly about Israel's attacks on Lebanon. Many of them wonder why India does not do something similar. Why is our reaction to terrorist attacks and hijackings so timid that even our most right-wing government ever felt compelled to escort terrorists to safety?

I feel there is a bigger problem at hand that is being ignored. Before we pleasure ourselves with fantasies of inflicting punishment on Masood Azhar and Hafiz Sayed, we need to ask why the termites within are being ignored. No one seems to be asking how dare the Kerala assembly pass a resolution to release Madani, a man accused of a terror attack, just for political benefits? No one seems to be asking how Ram Vilas Paswan, a man who actually ran a campaign saying "Only a Muslim should be the Bihar CM" never got the criticism and even the abuse he deserved? Can you imagine what the reaction would be if a politician said "Only a Hindu should be a CM of a state?". Why is Mulayam Singh Yadav able to get away with giving a clean chit to the very organisation against which his own police departments have gathered evidence?

How can Jaswant Singh tell us with a straight face that he has known for over a decade that a man in the PMO was leaking our secrets to other nations, but never felt like telling anyone that because "he had left the PMO, the country and I didn't want to dig old graves"? Sitting on such a piece of information until you want to make money through books is as treasonous as being a mole.

All around us, politicians are saying or doing things that undermine our national security. And yet, they are winning elections, aren't they? They are coming to power, and ruling our country. And why do politicians in Israel or USA react with such belligerence when they are attacked? Is it because they are super macho men with oodles of self respect while our politicians are just sissies?

Well, that is the right answer if you just want to rant to your friends, or converse over dinner. Yes, blame the khaki clad corrupt bozos, and rock yourself to sleep wishing we had "bold" leaders like Israel does.

But the actual right answer is that politicians all over the world are just driven by one thing - getting elected. The Americans and Israelis go on an attack because they know that their electorates care enough about security and safety to vote out someone they think compromises on those things. It's not that their politicians are made of sterner stuff. Their public has a low threshold for getting blown to bits on their way to work.

In India, we are just not like that. We really aren't. And let us be honest about it. We don't care enough about national security to vote on its basis. We aren't bothered by the prospects of death too much. I don't know what the reasons for it are. Maybe because even if the blasts in Mumbai killed 200 people in 11 minutes, we know that the same number dies in accidents on local train tracks every couple of months. Maybe because most Indians are busy worrying about where their next meal is coming from. Maybe because there is still some complacency within all of us that makes us think that the problem is not big enough to trheaten our own security. Whatever the reason, we just don't care enough. Which election has ever been fought with security as an agenda? How many people will really vote on its basis?

The key question is, why should our politicians do anything? Will they lose elections if terrorism keeps growing? Has terrorism become an issue big enough to swing elections? No it hasn’t. So they do not have an incentive to take any proactive steps, do they?

They know that losing Kashmir will mean a lost elections. So they do whatever is needed to retain Kashmir. But beyond the bare minimum effort needed to retain it, there is no marginal benefit for the politicians, electorally, to do anything more.

Considering how high our threshold for our throats being cut by terrorists on our own country's hijacked plane is, it is actually a miracle that politicians are doing even the miniscule amount they are doing to secure our lives.

The day our threshold lowers enough for us to give votes on the basis of it, you will see politicians flexing their muscles. You will see Entebbe style operations being ordered. You will see our own version of 'Wrath of God'. But until that day, make your peace with the fact that on an average, the most daring thing an Indian politician will ever do will be introducing newer reservations and/or boldly take the fiscal deficit where no FM has ever taken it before.