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Can the failed UPA govt restore confidence?

Can the failed UPA govt restore confidence?
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First Published: Mon, Dec 01 2008. 12 59 AM IST

Updated: Mon, Dec 01 2008. 12 59 AM IST
As a handful of terrorists held the city of Mumbai to ransom and kept the whole nation in the throes of a crisis for 60 long hours, there is a deep sense of hurt to the Indian psyche and pride. Common people are aghast at the utter humiliation meted out to a nation of at least one billion people by a few lumpen elements. The overriding sentiment is that India is not safe and that politicians of all hues have failed to tackle terrorism.
Despite frequent terror strikes, we have not learnt any lessons nor applied correctives. The will to tackle terrorism is completely missing. The scale of the Mumbai devastation and its grievous impact to the Indian psyche is so huge that we as a nation can no longer afford to soft-pedal terrorism.
People of the country expect accountability from their elected governments to restore their faith in the institutions. Against this expectation, the resignation of home minister Shivraj Patil—who has become a subject of indignation and ridicule—is welcome, though it is a little late.
Deputy chief minister and home minister of Maharashtra R.R. Patil, who has described the terror attack as a “small” incident, has shocked people and must be forced to resign for the sheer insensitivity of his remarks or should be made to apologize for his tasteless comments.
Talking of the Mumbai attacks, there is a significant difference in the nature of terror attacks in Mumbai and in different cities in the last two years. Most of the recent bomb explosions in the cities of Delhi, Jaipur, Bangalore and Ahmedabad have been caused by local terror modules, mostly involving local youth. The latest Mumbai attack is a war-like external aggression unleashed by terror networks from across the border.
Earlier this year, there were widespread protests from the political class in the wake of Batla House encounter and the investigations into Malegaon blasts case as our cynical politicians from the entire political spectrum viewed terrorism from a political and a communal perspective.
Acting tough on terror elements from within the country was caught in the mindless pursuit of vote bank politics. But one hopes that these inane considerations would not come in the way of dealing tough with external terror elements. But with the general election barely a few months away, the political parties can be expected to raise the spectre of terrorism to consolidate their vote banks and to engage each other in no-holds-barred political battles.
Would the Mumbai terror strikes influence the outcome of elections to the assemblies of Delhi, Rajasthan and Jammu and Kashmir? Perhaps not.
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Terrorism has failed to emerge as a major issue in assembly polls, despite the best efforts of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its hard-hitting campaigns. The Mumbai attack has surely spurred more people to vote in Delhi elections, but that has not necessarily prompted them to vote for the BJP.
For the common man, both the BJP and the Congress have had their share of failures in dealing with terror. As people seem to lose trust in the political class per se, they are looking for leaders who can make them feel safe.
Does this mean that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government may not have a reason to worry about the issue of terrorism hurting the alliance in Lok Sabha polls early next year? Will the BJP fail to benefit from the glaring failures of the UPA government in dealing with terrorism during its tenure?
As I have been stressing over the past few weeks, the electorate is increasingly looking at the capacity and competence of their leaders and not just political parties to lend their support. If terrorism emerges as a major issue in Lok Sabha polls, as I guess it would, people will vote for parties that have credible leaders who can make them feel safe.
It is here that the ruling UPA has reasons to worry about. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is known for his integrity but does not come across as a strong leader who can squarely deal with terror.
Priyanka Gandhi’s candid comment last Saturday that a leader such as Indira Gandhi would have dealt with an attack such as this one with an iron hand echoes the sentiment of an average Indian. Every Indian feels humbled and humiliated by the Mumbai experience and is craving for leadership that will help him hold his head high.
The UPA government over the last few months has been bereft of direction and gripped with inertia. The Mumbai terror attack is a challenge and the Prime Minister must seize the initiative and take immediate steps to show the government’s resolve to tackle the menace. If this was India’s own 9/11, let us show to the world that we are capable of dealing with the challenge to avert such incidents in the future.
For heaven’s sake, let us not treat this as another “small” incident and let our incompetence and irresponsible leadership not be couched to glorify the famed resilience of our hapless citizens.
G.V.L. Narasimha Rao is a political analyst and managing director of a Delhi-based research consulting firm. Your comments are welcome at thebottomline@livemint.com
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First Published: Mon, Dec 01 2008. 12 59 AM IST