It has been a year since 26/11/08, when a city, of almost two crore people, was held hostage for sixty hours by ten gunmen. The carnage left over 350 people dead including nine terrorists. The macabre drama was televised, live, by a host of TV channels- all promising exclusive action by their intrepid correspondents. Frankly, it was a little sick for them to have jostled for prime positions to cover it as if it were some theatrical performance. It seems, that, the terrorists were watching the show themselves and getting valuable updates on what the police were doing to flush them out.

The authorities were caught with their pants down-as always. The terrorists had managed to travel from Karachi to Mumbai, after hijacking an Indian fishing vessel, inspite of the Navy and the Coastguard. They managed to land on the shores of Mumbai, carrying arms and ammunition, without being challenged once by any of our policemen; who otherwise can be found harassing the common man everywhere. It was only at CST that a RPF policeman had the guts and the gumption to fire at them. But they walked away after mowing down innocent passengers in a hail of bullets.

It was after several hours that the police could make out that it was a well planned and executed operation  carried out by a suicide squad having some semblance of military training. By then the police had lost three senior officers who had been gunned down by two of the fidayeen. It looks as if these officers had no idea what they were up against. Imagine a vehicle full of armed policemen being cut down by two men, who had the time to throw out the bodies before driving away in the police vehicle! By the time anti terrorist squads could be deployed, hundreds had been killed by the terrorists. The situation came under control only after two and a half days. Nine terrorists were killed and one captured alive. The manner of his capture showed what normal policing could achieve. It was no fancy sharp shooter who captured him but an extraordinary policeman who had the courage to grapple with the armed terrorist. It was not institutional excellence but personal bravery which had carried the day for Mumbai police.

The sheer lack of common sense of the authorities was displayed by the way in which television crews were allowed to film the whole episode as if it were some tamasha. The streets around the epicenters of action were crowded by thousands of people who had come to have a dekho at what was happening. They were not a help in any way but a hindrance to the authorities who did nothing to keep these curious bystanders away. It looked as if a movie was being shot and not a life and death situation.

It’s been a year since then. As expected, it’s time again for the glitterati to adorn television studios. They are not amused, no sir, for the battle was carried to their haunts- South of Mumbai- this time. No one has heard one practical suggestion from them so far. They are all mouthing the well-known cliches-about how the political and bureaucratic classes are corrupt, how we must take the war deep inside Pakistan, etc. But what analysis can one expect from television debates where the issue hangs from one commercial break to another?

It is the time to face the truth. This was not the last outrage of this kind. There will be more in the future, not only in India but abroad also, for the perpetrators are willing to die in their so-called holy war. And we must be prepared. It is not the government alone who have to fight this war but common people also. We must be prepared to undergo the inconvenience of body frisking, intrusive camera surveillance, and police check posts-the works- while in public places. We must be prepared not to let our curiosity get the better of us and crowd places as we did during the last carnage. We are quick to appreciate the Israelis or the Americans on their handling os similar situations, but how many of us are prepared to face conscription like the Israelis or show the same kind of civic responsibilities as the Americans? Let us also be like them.

It’s also time to remember those who died in vain, for no fault of theirs. They were just unlucky-to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. It could have been any one of us in their place, really.

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