By Nilofar Suhrawardy, courtesy The New Indian Express
If Prime Minister Manmohan Singhâ€™s apology for failing to stop the Mumbai terror strikes had moistened even a few eyes, it may perhaps have been considered worthwhile.
One does, however, think about it, not because of the apology or the manner in which it was made, but simply because it came from a person holding the highest office in the government.The constitutional duties and rights of Indians are not limited to those holding political power. Any citizen should be asking questions and even criticizing those in power if needed.
Sadly, the apology fell flat on every count, even by the standards of rhetoric.This is not the first time Indians were killed in terrorist attacks. But it was the first time that a few militants specifically targeted British and American passport holders, Jews and rich Indians, in addition to the common citizens belonging to poorer classes, who have always borne the main burden of such attacks.
One wonders what stopped our political leaders, including the Prime Minister, from apologizing in earlier cases. Are the lives of a few foreigners truly more precious than those of hundreds of Indians who have fallen victim to terrorist attacks this year alone?
If the Prime Minister assumed that a few dismissals and his apology, together with aggressive postures towards Pakistan would enough by way of damage control, clearly he has ignored the hard fact that this half-hearted mea culpa cannot set his record straight.
Despite home minister Shivraj Patil, Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and deputy chief minister R R Patil being forced to resign over the attacks, not all are satisfied.
Questions are being asked about the continuance of the National Security Adviser in office and why the defense minister has been spared. There is nothing new about militant groups based in Pakistan engaged in anti-India activities.
What is, however, perplexing is that despite being conscious of this fact, the government remained oblivious to security lapses (and probably still is) till the Mumbai terror strikes actually took place. Why? The question assumes greater significance in view of the warnings about the possibility of Mumbai being hit by militants. With other parts of the country targeted earlier in the year, it became all the more important for the government to enhance security for Mumbai. Clearly, this suggests widespread negligence.
New home minister P Chidambaramâ€™s acknowledgement of â€œsecurity lapsesâ€ only confirms this. A mere apology does not mean the Prime Minister can avoid explaining what action was taken following the warnings they received about Mumbai being on the hit list.
It is strange that nothing of substance has come from the authorities on the steps they had considered or were in the process of taking after receiving the warnings.
One is thus compelled to interpret the Prime Ministerâ€™s apology as being not merely for failing to prevent terror strikes, but more so for the governmentâ€™s callous approach towards tightening security in Mumbai, despite the specific intelligence on the subject.
Of course, it is possible that the government became â€œawareâ€ of having earlier received warnings only after terrorists struck. This further exposes the administrative and, of course, political set-up, with serious issues demanding immediate action locked up in files till the damage was actually done.
Did the warnings reach the PMO, the home and defense ministries, the NSAâ€™s office and the Maharashtra government? If they did, who should be blamed for not paying attention till after the terrorists struck? Yes, even a false warning through a hoax telephone call, e-mail or other means is expected to put the security personnel on alert lest it prove genuine.In the Mumbai case, there are reports of even the United States having alerted India. The PM may be content with his apology as a crucial move, diplomatically as well as politically, but that does not absolve him of anything.Itâ€™s not an apology but an explanation that is needed on why the government erred in having let Mumbai-terror strikes take place.