Sunday, November 30, 2008

Media Punditry on Mumbai

The recent terrorist attack on Mumbai has received massive global media coverage, but analysts and commentators have displayed little insight or understanding. Here's what editorials/columnists had to say in two of the India's "elite" newspapers on Sunday (30 November)

Times of India
On page one, under the incendiary headline "Our Politicians Fiddle As Innocents Die," India's largest circulation English newspaper berated the country's leadership without naming names or noting specific failures. On the editorial page commentators had this to say:

Swapan Dasgupta: Noted "two small points of reassurance" from the Bombay carnage. The first is that the television coverage of the event has "brought home to Indians" the "ugly face of terrorism." The second is that the "fatalism" of Mumbay citizens in the face of terrorism in the past (which "wasn't a display of the gritty stiff upper lip resolve Londoners showed during the Blitz in 1940-1941"), has given way to palpable anger. Mumbai wasn't a victim of "ordinary intelligence failure." The "grim truth is that there was zero intelligence. India was caught napping." This was evidently written before it was reported that there had been numerous and specific warnings from a variety of intelligence agencies.

Swaminathan Aiyar: Mentioned the Mumbai attack towards the end of a long piece headlined "Electoral Mood is Anti-incumbent." While the attacks have shown the Congress to be "more incompetent than ever," there have been "terrorist incidents" also in BJP-ruled Rajasthan.

Bachi Karkaria: An affecting account of how her friend and TOI colleague Sabina came from Delhi to attend a Karkaria wedding, and was thus placed in Death's way at the Taj.

Jug Suraiya: A meditation titled "Athiest's Prayer" noted the "appalling selectiveness of God's mercy" as evidenced by TOI colleague Sabina's "appointment in Samara" at the Taj. (The reference is to the story about the merchant of old Baghdad whose servant saw Death make a threatening gesture at him in the marketplace and ran in a panic to borrow his masters horse to ride away to Samarra and escape. After the man had ridden away, the merchant went to the marketplace and asked Death why he had made a threatening gesture at his servant. "That was not a threatening gesture" said Death; "I was just surprised to see him here, for I have an appointment with him at Samara tonight.)

Gurcharan Das: A piece titled "Changing Rules of Dharma" began with criticism of Sonia Gandhi for saying the nationalization of Indian banks by Indira Gandhi gave the country "stability and resilience." It then hopped sequentially to: (1) the current "dire" financial crisis, amidst which "we don't seem to realize how much we are hurting;" (2) a defense of the strong action taken by governments to intervene in the free market (the Mahabharatha, it noted, recommends adaptation of Dharma in times of crisis); (3) a recommendation for making credit cheaper in India; and finally, (4) a reassurance that "capitalism will eventually correct itself."

Shashi Tharoor: In "Keep Up The Spirit to Fight" Tharoor noted the"savage irony" that the terrorists had disembarked at the Gateway of India, which was built in 1911 "to welcome the King-Emperor George V." (It is rather less ironic if we consider that George was part of a line of terrorists who presided over the deaths of some 500 million Indians.) In the wake of the Mumbai attack "platitudes flow like blood," and "inevitably, the questions have begun to be asked: 'is it all over for India? Can the country ever recover from this?'" The answers are provided: "No" and Yes."

Hindustan Times
Vir Singhvi:
In "We're All Bombayites Today" Singhvi asked why India is in the company of Afghanistan and Pakistan in experiencing an unchecked reign of terrorism. The question went unanswered as the article swung easily into a condemnation of inept politicians. The people of India were described as "fed up of politicians who use terrorism as an excuse to win votes. ... fed up of the way they seek to pit Muslim against Hindu over the dead bodies of victims of terror in the cynical hope of winning the next election. ... fed up of their incompetence."

Manas Chakravarty: In an article titled "A Sitting Duck Country" the self-described "Loose Canon" (sic) imagined what Osama bin Laden might say about India in writing to his supporters. The piece ended: "Is there any chance that we may be attacking them too many times and that they're close to losing their legenday patience? ... Don't worry, they'll do absolutely nothing, except go quack, quack, quack."

Karan Thapar: "When Zardari Spoke To Us" recounted the Pakistani President's astonishingly conciliatory speech to a Delhi audience a week ago via a television hook-up. He broke with past policy in declaring that his country would not be the first to use nuclear weapons. He said how Indians and Pakistanis all had a bit of each other in them. He declared that Pakistan did not see India as a threat. Thapar did not mention the attack on Mumbai.

Indrajit Hazra: In "Fight Terror? Whatever" adopted a world-weary attitude to terrorism and the political platitudes trotted out in response. Anyone who thinks he is cynical is directed to those who "blow us up with drop-dead ease and delirious smiles on their faces."

The Sunday Hindustan Times also had several guest columnists, most notable among them novelist Amitav Ghosh. In a piece headlined "Defeat or victory isn't determined by the success of the strike itself, but by the response," Ghosh warned against an Indian response to the Mumbai attack based on accepting 9/11 as a precedent; if we do that the "outcome will be profoundly counterproductive." Another guest columnist was Naresh Fernandes, editor of Time Out magazine. He wrote how the attack on the Jewish outpost at Nariman House made Indian Jews "feel like Jews" (i.e. endangered) for the first time in the country's history. "That, to me, has been among the most tragic casualties of this terroist attack" Fernandes concluded.

The columnists in The New York Times and the Times of London were hardly better; will review them asap.

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