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The fire this time

This is the most audacious attack yet on India. From India it demands immaculate sanity

Written by Meghnaddesai |
November 28, 2008 2:24:57 am

This time it is different. Forget Batla House, forget Malegaon, or Godhra or Ayodhya. Set aside the normal incivilities about minority community or Hindu terrorism.

This is war. This is not a problem of the government or of a political party. It is an attack on the Indian state. It is an attack on all political parties, secular and communal, Left and Right, on fundamentalists of all faiths and of no faith.

It is an attack on Mumbai and on Maharashtra and on every city and every state of the Union of India. It is an attack on all

Indians as much as all those who are our guests. Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. All our guests are our family.

This is India’s own 9/11.

The world and India will never be the same again. India has stood alone thus far for 60 years in South Asia and indeed Southeast Asia as the one nation-state which has not broken up. It has never had a national civil war. It has contained all its enemies within — whether we mean Khalistan, Nagaland, Kashmiri separatists, communalists, or Naxalites. The lives of our soldiers and our police, our citizens and even our leaders have been sacrificed to achieve that.

But when it has come to the enemy without, the Indian state has been notoriously soft. It was unprepared against China in 1962 and against Pakistan in Kargil. It was held at ransom in Kandahar. This has happened once again. This week, India was exposed, stripped naked and assaulted. The attack was thoroughly planned, immensely audacious and devastatingly successful. A small number of determined, well-trained, dedicated warriors managed to hold the millions of Mumbai and the billion-plus of India at their mercy.

It happened without any warning. Yet it must have been months in planning. No one — police, intelligence services, RAW or ATS or CBI — had the slightest inkling of what was afoot. All systems failed. The system itself failed. This is not SIMI, or Huji, LeT or Indian Mujahideen. These are not terrorists. They are guerrilla warriors. They have a global perspective. They are not fighting just India or Indians. They are fighting a global society which is tolerant and free.

This is the first full-scale attack by global Islamism on India. After New York and Washington DC, London, Madrid and Bali, this continues its unrelenting war against the world. It is a war with the West; and like it or not India is a part of the West.

Who says so? Osama Bin Laden.

This is why the guerrillas demanded all those who held British and American passports. And this is why they attacked Nariman House: of all the “others”, none is more “other” than Jews as far as the Islamist is concerned. They came to India and to Mumbai in particular because they knew that in the centre of India’s global heartland they would pick up people from around the world. They knew it would be easy to find vulnerable foreigners in India.

That is not a cause for complacency, for breathing a sigh of relief, for consoling ourselves that it is not a regular communalist attack, not Muslims on Hindus or vice versa. Don’t say, so all is fine, they came for the foreigners, we can get back to normal life now.

Remember the oft-quoted words of Dietrich Bonhoffer, a Christian martyred by the Nazis: “When they came for the Jews I said I was not a Jew. When they came for the Communists, I said I was not a Communist. Now they have come for me.”

Right now, we are all Jews.

India is on trial. Not just India, Bharat as well. But whose India ? India of the secularist or of the Hindutva believer? Of the Akali or of the Buddhist, of the Christians of Orissa and Kerala and Karnataka or their killers? Of the Dalit or the OBC or the Brahmins and Thakurs? Of the Gurjjars and Meenas and the Marathi Manoos or the Bihari road worker hounded across the land from Assam to Mumbai? Are we each merely an entry in a vote-bank, ready material for manipulation in our march to the ballot box?

Who speaks any longer for all of India? Sadly, no single party, no single leader, no civil society group. There is no longer a Mohandas or a Vallabhbhai or a Jawaharlal or even a Jayaprakash. Yet the hour demands unity of purpose and nobility of vision. It demands all hands to the mast, all shoulders to the wheel. No single voice is loud enough to be heard by all. We need a chorus of all our voices. It is a test of leadership.

Can India’s political parties, tested for 60 years in the crucible of democracy, rise to this occasion and save our country? Can we set aside partisanship of our politics and forge a united front? Can the two major parties set aside differences in their visions of India and weave a common narrative of why India is a nation, united and single? Can we give our unreserved support to

those who are fighting at the risk of their lives in our security services now and in the foreseeable future?

The time for partisanship will come again. But now we need a national dialogue on the commonalities which unite us, to fight forces which threaten to destroy the nation-state. We need a truce among us to fight those who war against us.

In other times and other countries, during emergencies such as war, political parties have sunk their differences and forged a government of national unity. Has the time come to do that in India?

Is this an Emergency?

The writer is a member of the British House of Lords

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