Public anger against politicians reflects helplessness

By Darshan Desai, IANS,

New Delhi : The unprecedented public outrage against politicians of all hues after the daring 60-hour terror atrocity on Mumbai’s landmarks spawned from the sinking feeling that they had been left in the lurch.

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“The anger was against the failure to prevent the terrorists and it was aggravated by the cavalier behaviour of the politicians,” eminent historian Ramachandra Guha said.

Guha told IANS: “People felt exploited, as if left in the lurch, as they watched 60 hours of live action — scared, helpless and frustrated.”

The strikes began Nov 26 and security forces battled with a dozen-odd terrorists for nearly three days. Over 180 people lost their lives and 300 were injured.

The outrage was out of frustration over the scale of the attack though there were many warnings with the government, said Sudha Pai, professor at the Central for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.

“Coupled with this was the politicking by all the parties, the people felt they have no other alternative at all. They were in a way left to fend for themselves,” Pai told IANS. “All this happened in the backdrop of repeated bombings in the country.”

From people gathering outside the hotels under siege in India’s commercial and film capital and the man on the street to those watching the action from the comfort of their homes far away, everyone focused their ire on politicians, whether from the Congress or the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“What a shame! Maharashtra’s Home Minister R.R. Patil said such small things happen in big cities,” Guha said.

“The NSG (National Security Guard) should be applauded. The media should be praised. Certain politicians should be bashed,” noted filmmaker Karan Johar posted on his blog.

“Politicians, soulless and emotionless, were addressing the country while reading off of tele-prompters. Can you not feel anything? Can you say nothing to make us feel just a little more secure in your hands?” Johar wrote.

Guha said: “Narendra Modi (Gujarat chief minister), who called (Mumbai Anti-Terrorist Squad chief Hemant) Karkare anti-India a week ago, went to offer his widow a crore of rupees; Raj Thackeray who swore by Mumbai’s pride went missing on the city’s day of reckoning. Pathetic.”

Modi, the BJP’s Hindutva poster boy, went to Mumbai when the attacks were continuing and made political speeches. He went to offer compensation of Rs.10 million to the widow of Karkare and families of policemen killed during the attack. Karkare’s family refused any help.

Modi had a week earlier called Karkare anti-India for his investigation in the role of Hindu religious leaders in the Malegaon bombings in Maharashtra.

Similarly, the father of 31-year-old Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, the NSG commando killed while fighting the terrorists, snubbed and shouted at Kerala Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan who had gone to offer him condolences.

His father K. Unnikrishnan and mother Dhanalakshmi refused to meet the chief minister and shut the door on him.

People also reacted strongly when Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh took with him his actor son Riteish Deshmukh and Bollywood filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma to the ravaged Taj Palace and Tower Hotel. This was the chief minister’s official visit.

“The anger is out of anxiety and fear coming from the people’s punctured sense of security,” said clinical psychologist Shobna Sonpar. She was a psychologist at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, from 1987 to 2000.

“In an attack like this, it is natural the outburst will be directed against the politicians for it is an anger against governance,” Sonpar said.

Sociologist Satish Deshpande said the people felt the attack was preventable.

“The drama was so long drawn out that the common man would think it could have been prevented; So, the feeling that somebody somewhere was not doing his job,” said Deshpande, who is with the Delhi School of Economics.

He said this was the first time that the elite were affected by a terrorist strike. “Blaming politicians is easy for them. Their anger is the normal contempt the elite have against politicians,” Deshpande argued.

However, he agreed the politicians had left one and all disgusted. “All of them are the same. Look at the BJP, it is so visibly happy. They see a chance to return to power.”

The political parties stooped very low. “L.K. Advani (senior BJP leader) decided against attending the all-party meeting called by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after the Mumbai tragedy. And what a reason to cite? That he is busy electioneering in Rajasthan,” said an angry Guha.

But he, like others, was happy that some heads did roll. After union Home Minister Shivraj Patil, Maharashtra’s Deputy Chief Minister and Home Minister R.R. Patil quit and Deshmukh offered his resignation.

“I don’t remember politicians accepting responsibility for something and resigning. Lal Bahadur Shastri resigned as railway minister after a major train accident in Maharashtra decades ago. The public outcry now has at least made them leave,” Guha said.