The massacre in Mumbai started on 26 November 2008, the agony of a megalopolis quickly became the mourning of a nation, and less than a week later, the aftermath is already taking on huge proportions.
A few days into this crisis, I travelled to Hyderabad to attend the Internet Governance Forum 2008. As elsewhere in India, the media and the conversations here revolve very much around the events in Mumbai. Television news programmes deal with them almost around the clock, the international channels amplifying the interest and the concern voiced in this country.
Locally, in the State of Maharashtra of which Mumbai is the capital, political consequences were quick to emerge. The population of Mumbai, I am told, is expressing its anger as never before, questioning the apparent ease with which the killings were perpetrated, demanding clarity on the responsibility of political leaders, wondering about the extent to which the city remains vulnerable to large-scale attacks. The Chief Minister of Maharashtra and his deputy have resigned, as well as their colleague the Minister of the Interior. The population of Mumbai is lighting candles, but beyond this expression of grief and solidarity, there is a message which the leadership would be unwise to neglect. The prevalent feeling appears on placards people have held up in spontaneous demonstrations in the streets of Mumbai: "Enough is enough".
This anger has spread. Beyond Maharashtra, "Enough is enough" has become the rallying cry of a nation. Politicians are being questioned on their contribution to the public good, because since the unifying vision of the Mahatma Gandhi and his sacrifice which made India aware of its identity, political service is widely considered to have fallen into meaning a service to politicians. More than disappointment, the public sentiment is veering towards wrath: the people of India, who make up the largest democracy in the world, are demanding accountability from those they have elected.
"Enough is enough" is aimed at incompetence, in a country whose many needs would require the dedication of professional people in greater numbers. The outcry in Mumbai is about some senior politicians occupying their positions more because of caste than by virtue of any proven ability to deal with complex situations. TV screens are full of footage showing hotel employees who helped save the lives of customers, of modest policemen who went into the foray, and in stark contrast some politicians who skirted their responsiblities.
"Enough is enough" takes aim at the defects of a system which begs reform. As people view, over and over again, the tragedy of Mumbai, they are struck by the courage of simple constables on the scene, and wonder where some of the more senior people in charge were during those days and nights of anguish. One hears the question ever more loudly: how can the country still afford to have so many separate national entities dealing with security, terrorism, public safety, emergency situations? How can there still be so many committees and special units, sometimes populated by individuals with long titles whose air of gravity cannot always compensate for their insufficient experience in crisis management?
One of the most striking consequences of this public outcry is that a popular television station, NDTV, has launched a nationwide campaign to elicit ideas from the public: what reforms does India really require, and how should the nation prepare its future? This initiative says a lot about the public mood, in a country which has long been known for its quiet acceptance of "manifest destiny". It means that people are less prepared to leave their future only in the hands of the political class. It also calls into question the way public life is organized, the sway of seniority, the privileges of caste, the sometimes dynastic approach to elected office.
The tragedy in Mumbai is also an international catalyst. As the terrorists who perpetrated the attacks seem to have come from Pakistan, India's neighbour is being challenged to act forcefully against the individuals or groups, presumably in Pakistan, who organized the massacre. In the US, President-elect Obama has expressed solidarity with India, and the outgoing Secretary of State, Ms. Rice, was in Delhi on the 2nd of December and she demanded that Pakistan cooperate fully with India in tracking down those responsible. In many other countries as well, political leaders have made statements supporting India and questioning the role of Pakistan as a safe haven for criminals.
Beyond its bereavement, Indian society is sending a message to its leaders, to its political parties, to its civil servants, to its sometimes complacent mass media: more than ever, political action is expected to serve the public good, and it's time to change local and national mores. The awakening comes at a tragic cost: "enough is enough".
commenter cet article