Some scary happenings
Incredible India is the Union Tourism Ministry’s sales pitch to attract more and more highspending tourists from across the world. But is anyone in authority worrying about the hugely negative impact the gangrape of a Swiss woman in Madhya Pradesh and the plight of a younger British woman who fractured both her legs while jumping from the balcony of an Agra hotel to escape molestation, all within three days, are bound to have on the inflow of tourists? This is disgraceful beyond words.
However, there are tragedies of a different kind that should shake us no less. Indeed, these are making us a laughing stock. Only a few most recent examples should suffice. The first is the controversy, nay, blatant contradiction between the rival accounts of the same episode by the Delhi police, on the one hand, and both the government and the police of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, on the other.
On Friday, March 22, after arresting an alleged Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist, Liyaquat Ali Shah, the Delhi police had patted itself on the back and claimed that it had averted a massive terrorist attack on the nation’s capital around Holi. It had also stated that it had recovered arms, including an AK-56 and grenades stored for Shah in a guesthouse close to Delhi’s Jama masjid. But Shah’s family in Kashmir, backed fully by the state police and the government, has declared this to be false. Shah, according to them, was a former militant who was returning home from Pakistan via Nepal, to partake in the state government’s policy to “rehabilitate” those militants that had gone to Pakistan or Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir for training but had later realized their mistake and were willing to surrender.
The state authorities have also endorsed the Shah family’s assertion that it had already filed an application with the Kupwara police to seek “benefits” under the “rehabilitation policy”. This is not all. Sections of the Indian media have also been punching holes in the claims of the capital’s cops who still stick to their version.
It was no surprise, therefore, that Kashmir’s Chief Minister Omar Abdullah traveled to Delhi to parley with Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and the latter reportedly agreed to his demand for a “time-bound inquiry” by the National Intelligence Agency. Since then both the warring sides have raised the ante. The official word from the Home Ministry is that it is examining whether the incident calls for a probe. Is this the measure of cooperation and coordination between the Centre and the government of a very sensitive state? What makes it even more disturbing is that the Congress that leads the ruling coalition at the Centre and the National Conference that heads the government in Kashmir are coalition partners in both New Delhi and Srinagar. Worse, the squalid episode is not a stray one. It is part of a pattern that was not altogether absent in the past but has assumed more worrisome proportions since the hanging of Afzal Guru. The state government, the Opposition and the bulk of the Kashmiri political class are talking in roughly the same language, which is critical of the Centre.
The death of a young man during a firing by a Central police organization stirred the pot even further. And what happened after the first Pakistan-backed terrorist attack on Srinagar after an interval of three years in which five jawans of the Central Reserve Police Force were shot in cold blood has made the situation even more alarming. For, it was acknowledged only then that, under orders issued by Srinagar, the CRPF is no longer allowed to carry firearms and make do with lathis.
The CRPF formation that came under the terrorist assault had only one rifle and a lot of lathis. The question is whether New Delhi had accepted this incredible restriction. Naturally, Parliament was very critical of this state of affairs whereupon the latest inanity of Shinde was:” Sometimes one has to fight with lathis.” Of several other recent events that do neither the country nor the polity any credit and sometimes ought to make us hang our heads in shame, let me mention just one more. It is the shocking and bizarre reaction to the Supreme Court’s judgment on the horrific 1993 serial bomb blasts in Bombay (now Mumbai) that killed 257 innocent people and wounded another 700. It is a perfectly legitimate comment on the Indian judicial and investigative systems that they have taken two long decades to bring this chilling case to a close.
Indeed, come to think of it, the unspeakable outrage is not yet properly rounded off. For, the mastermind of the mass murder and his deputy, both Indian nationals – Bombay Mafia don, Dawood Ibrahim, and Yaqub Memon – have not yet been brought to justice. They are strutting around Pakistan, enjoying its hospitality and protection. They are Smart Alecs that demand that New Delhi must “intensify” its pressure on Pakistan to hand over Dawood and Menon who seem to be ignorant of Islamabad’s response to our repeated plea for appropriate action against the mastermind of 26/11, Hafiz Sayeed. There were 100 accused before the apex court. Of them 98 have been punished.
One is to be hanged, 10 will undergo life imprisonment and others varying terms behind bars. Nobody has commented on these men, largely poor and unknown individuals, or even about the two young Muslims who have been acquitted. But this country’s elite, especially the uppermost of the upper crust – including politicians, judges, actors, corporate honchos and, above all, movie moghuls of Bollywood – are renting the sky with their tearful pleas that poor, little Sanjay Dutt, sentenced to five years imprisonment, be pardoned without a minute’s delay. Why? Because he alone is “one of us”, and to hell with the hoi polloi.
The lament of the rich and the powerful is: “Our poor Sanju” has already spent 18 months in jail and suffered for two decades. What about the two innocent souls that have been acquitted, not convicted, by the apex court. They spent nearly 20 years in the slammer. In our country, the Constitution ensures equality of all before the law. Must it be converted into an Orwellian republic where all are equal but some always “more equal than the others”?