Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Terror and sensexocrats

Terror and sensexocrats - M.J Akbar

THE anguish of terrorism breeds a thousand questions, each troubling, one more difficult than the other. Anger is inevitable, but insufficient. Judgment is necessary, and retribution essential, for a state cannot be impotent against those who seek to destroy its peace.

But it is equally vital to understand the problem, if only to better understand the enemy. Solutions are eventually found not by the judge but by the scholar. The hunt for villains is incomplete without the hunt for answers.

The answers do not belong to easy questions. A parade of the usual suspects is necessary to police work. Pakistan has topped just about every list of suspects that I can recall. Let us agree that some intelligence agency in Pakistan is clever enough to be guilty each time. We then also have to agree that we have been able to do nothing about it.

There is a pattern. Delhi accuses, Islamabad responds with denial and a request for hard evidence. Threats follow from Delhi; cease, or else. Sometimes the "or else" is accompanied by the rattle of sabres.
In 2001, after the attack on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly building on October 1 and the Parliament building on December 13, the rattle of sabres was heard across the world. Then? Then nothing happened. On August 25, 2003, bombs left 40 dead in south Mumbai. On October 29, 2005, 59 died in Delhi's markets which till that moment had been humming with Diwali joy. Each time the Prime Minister dressed wounds with rhetoric about Pakistan. What happened? A lot of nothing.

Why do the usual suspects remain usual? Who are the fifth columnists of our country? "Suspect" is a word as wide as the horizon since hard evidence is rarely offered to back up the suspicion. Is suspicion a device to appease media frenzy, to buy time, to ensure that the people are diverted from asking hard questions from their own government?

Why are the usual suspects not penetrated, exposed and uprooted during the fallow months between terrorist outrages? The latest on the list of regular suspects is SIMI, the Students' Islamic Movement of India. The mention of SIMI certainly encourages some television channels to fill their screens with caps and beards. SIMI is a public organisation with office-bearers. If they are guilty why cannot the police destroy them while the conspiracy is being hatched instead of waiting for the violence to blast our lives? Their name has been fed to the media before. What did the police do after that?

"The usual suspects" is a phrase from the film Casablanca and is used by a cynical police chief who knows that suspects are obligingly expendable during a crisis. Of the thousand questions that trouble me, two leave me helpless. Who and where are tomorrow's terrorists? Why did yesterday's terrorists in Mumbai target first class railway compartment?

The answer to the second will offer clues to the first.

Terrorists succeed because they keep ahead of those on their tail. Mumbai's terrorists are now mining the many layers of anger in a complex metropolis vulnerable to innumerable forms of misery. Examine the events that preceded the train terrorism in July and you can see the seismic tremors building, whether connected or separate, in advance of the earthquake. Even nature intervenes to rev up the Misery Index.

Mumbai now has three major religions: Hinduism, Islam and Wealth. These broad categories may have soft edges, allowing much seepage but the contours are valid. The rich were always a separate culture.
Now they have their own gods, their own demons, their own rituals, their own prayers and, naturally, their own sacrificial goats. In this respect, as in so much else, Mumbai is only the advance face of India.

India is dividing into two worlds: a political democracy, where the poor live, and an economic sensexocracy in which the rich and the rising middle class bow to consumerism, salaries and a stock exchange. The Sensexocrats are the new Brahmins, the new ruling caste. It is not an accident that finance minister Chidambaram, declared, after the train terrorism, that the Mumbai Sensex had survived. The Sensex was safe and therefore his India was safe.

The democrats of our serfocracy are permitted the privilege of voting once every five years. That is their only relationship to power. Very suitably, they are given a holiday to celebrate such a festive occasion, which of course also serves to reinforce our image abroad as a free nation. But the freedom of the poor ends with that vote. Other freedoms are the privilege of the Sensexocrats, a prominent sub-caste of the group, equivalent possibly to the Kayasthas, being the media. (I am a Sensexocrat of the media sub-caste.)

Sensexocrats periodically offer Democrats economic crumbs from a Barmecide's Feast (a feast in which food is an illusion). When Democrats get angry, the Prime Minister, whoever he may be, gives a speech with a carefully depressed face. When Democrats get desperate, and resort to violence -- as the Naxalites are doing -- Delhi, lost in dream world delirium, selects a response from Alice in Wonderland. Off with his head, said the Queen!

The terrorists of Mumbai are expanding their theological base. Marx thought religion was the opium of the masses. He never paused to consider what religion might one day think of Marx. The mixture of communal venom with Marxist anger is just the kind of acid that the desperate need to set off a deadly conflagration. Some politicians will of course never resist encouraging such fires.

Is this where the next terrorist is coming from -- from the despair of the underclass of Mumbai? Is the Naxalite a terrorist? Is the Naxalite a fundamentalist? These questions are urgent and relevant. Terrorism is born in the mind, and that is where any battle for prevention has to take place. The police and the Army can take charge of the cure.

But if prevention is better than cure, then it becomes the responsibility of political class and its surrogates, including media. It is they who must engage in the tough task of reducing despair, and spreading social justice along with prosperity. Why do I feel helpless? Because the answers lie in nuances and the Sensexocrats are blinded by headlines.

Eminent intellectual and author M J Akbar is editor-in-chief of The Asian Age and Deccan Chronicle newspapers. He can be reached at mjakbar@asianage.com .


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