COVID-19, India’s Options: Fight, Flee, Pray, or…

A slave went to his master in Cairo with a request to save him from ‘death’.

The wretched man shivered as he narrated his encounter: “I met ‘her’ in the marketplace during my morning errand to buy grocery. ‘She’ was giving me threatening looks. I guess my time has come.”

The master, a benevolent man, gave him the best steed in his stable and advised him to ride to faraway Basra. He owed that kind gesture to a man who had served him devotedly for two decades. “Abdullah, I don’t think death can reach you that far,” he said as he waved the grateful slave good luck.

Abdullah galloped away into the horizon leaving a cloud of dust.

It was a matter of chance that the master too came across ‘death’ when he went for a stroll in the evening. He couldn’t help question the menacing looking ‘creature’ in her black cloak, “Why did you scare Abdullah. He is such a pious Moslem, prays five times a day; follows all rituals; is kind hearted and has served me so selflessly all these years?”

“Why? Why at all would I scare such a good being? I had only one thought when I saw him perambulating here in the streets of Cairo this morning. My appointment with him is in Basra over the next weekend. I was wondering how he would reach Basra in such a short time for our scheduled meeting.”

That was an Arab folklore.

There’s a real story too; wonder if it is true:

Among the victims of the Ukranian jetliner that got shot in the Iranian airspace recently––in the aftermath of the killing of Major General Qassem Soleimani––was an individual who had texted his friend before boarding the ill-fated aircraft that he was concerned about the mounting tension between the US and Iran and wanted to leave Tehran before the situation worsened.

That was for the preface.

In dealing with COVID-19, things cannot be left to fate. Everything good, bad or ugly will not happen automatically. Not luck, but actions taken now will determine the outcome.

उद्यमेन हि सिध्यन्ति कार्याणि न मनोरथै ।

न हि सुप्तस्य सिंघस्य प्रविशन्ति मुखे मृगाः ।।

The essence of this Sanskrit Shloka can be summarised thus: Physical action is essential to fulfil wishes. A deer does not walk into a sleepy lion’s mouth––even he (the lion) has to hunt to satiate his hunger.

The global war against Corona Virus is on. Deliberate and conscientious action can spell success. Today, the worst affected countries are China, Italy, Iran and South Korea. Each country is doing its bit to keep the epidemic at bay. Chinese efforts stand out in as much as there’s a decline in the number of new cases. A close scrutiny reveals that unmindful of the ‘world opinion’ they have resorted to dictatorial (draconian, for some) methods of implementation of the medical directives to succeed in their endeavour. Tough times require tough measures. While the end of the crisis is not in sight yet, it is possible to review our own actions thus far and take mid-course corrections to arrive at the desired destination.

Schools have been closed and use of biometrics for identification at entry/exit to offices has been suspended. Teams of doctors, the Armed Forces and the paramilitary forces have been pressed into action. The checks at the airport have been made stringent. There is a suggestion to close the Taj Mahal to tourists. The government has issued an advisory to: “Avoid mass gatherings.”

But, as brought out in an earlier post (“Salam, Namaste Kovid-19”) either the magnitude of the problem has not sunk in, or the attitudinal deficiency has still not been made up. Congregations are still taking place. Recently there was a ‘Page Three’ kind of wedding attended by the who’s who of Delhi. The very people who (supposedly) are to lead the lesser mortals to salvation were visible engaging in apparently long firm ‘handshakes’. Still later they were engaged in more serious and essential meetings elsewhere in Delhi to restore normalcy in riot hit parts of city.

All are equal in the eyes of the Corona Virus

Likewise, there was another mega event where the country’s sportspersons were honoured and people mingled. In the larger national interest such gatherings may well be avoided. A lot depends on the willingness of the people at the helm.

Elsewhere, people with colour-smeared faces could be seen throwing caution to the air––the mood to celebrate Holi has already taken the better of people. Hand sanitisers and facemasks have disappeared from the shelves. More and more jokes and cartoons laced with cynicism and weird remedies like names of some herbs, alcohol and cow’s urine etc. (rather than useful tips) are being shared on social media.

Time to issue advisories has long gone

If only people could understand one thing: “Corona Virus is socialist and secular in the true sense of those terms––it is going to spare none. The adage: “Example is better than precept,” was never as relevant as it is today. The chosen and the educated few who can make ‘the difference’ must lead by example. For the government, the time to issue advisories has long gone. These are tough times; tougher times are yet to come. Firm directives rather than suggestive advisories, is the need of the hour. Not prayers but action alone can save this country despite the blessings of the 54,000 and more Gods and deities taking care of its destiny.

Salaam Namaste COVID-19

Ever wondered who could have been the most harried Indians over the last two months? The answer might not come easy because of the way most people look at things, and act (or react) to situations. The answer is not Modi, not Shah, not Kejriwal and not even Rahul Gandhi.

It is the team of doctors like Dr P Ravindran (Director, Emergency Medical Relief Department), Dr Sujeet Singh Rajput (Director, National Centre for Disease Control) and the medicos of the Directorate General of Health Services (Ministry of Health) that has been having sleepless nights. They, amply supported (as always) by the Indian Army, the ITBP and RML Hospital etc. are in the forefront of the fight against Corona Virus in India. It is a challenge, the enormity of which, it will never be possible to appreciate entirely. Providing medical services is one thing, motivating doctors and nursing staff to work in an environment threatened by the virus is quite another. The diplomats, the bureaucrats and the political leadership are all playing their assigned roles to the best of their abilities but one thing is certain––the credit for the success (if, and when, it is achieved) against the epidemic will go to those at the helm and the brunt of the failure (if any) will be faced by those actually fighting it out.

Bearing the Brunt

To add to the woes of Dr Ravindran and Dr Sujeet is the attitude of some medicos who have said that they would go on strike if masks were not made available. Beyond an iota of doubt, masks and protective gear are an undeniable necessity for the medicos. But at this juncture, going public with this attitude of refusing to work under constraints will prove more contagious and deadly than COVID-19. Those at the helm must do everything in their power to equip the frontline workers appropriately and adequately. They would do well if full control is given to the doctors rather than the bureaucrats or the politicians. It is equally important to allay the fears and anxiety of those in the field.

The fight against COVID-19 is going to be tough. The antecedents of the last few days will establish where we stand in this fight.

Efforts in right earnest have been on to contain the spread since the threat became evident. It is an acknowledged fact that one of the likely reasons for its spread is proximity and physical contact with the affected individuals. Yet the first lot of people evacuated from China, and quarantined on arrival in India, were seen mingling and frolicking. The video of people dancing together in an isolation ward is horrifying to say the least. On exit from quarantine, one of them compared the life ‘there’ as: “Being a part of the television serial, Bigg Boss.”

Naïve? Stupid? Callous?

Naïve? Stupid? Callous? Or, all three at the same time?

Under the circumstances, let alone people in quarantine, even others (everywhere) must ‘maintain distance.’ Even the media could be denied access to the people in medical isolation––recorded press releases must suffice.

In the recent past a few gatherings took place where people came in close proximity of hundreds others and in physical contact with equally large numbers. Here are some that come to mind:

  • The youth festival at Gargi College: the ‘reverie’ was disturbed by hordes of goons who entered the campus and assaulted the students. In the ensuing melee, people in large numbers came in physical contact with each other.  
  • Thousands of Delhiites at Ramlila Maidan gathered to witness the oath-taking ceremony of AAP: People were urged to come with families and children.
  • Nearly 1,00,000 people gathered in Motera Stadium in Gujrat to welcome President Donald Trump on his first ever visit to India.

Giving a rational (and a dispassionate) thought to the antecedents––after the threat of COVID-19 became evident––the above mass gatherings and many others, which are potential hazards, could have been scrupulously avoided. Schools are now being closed and conferences, sports meet and military exercises are being called off. It could be a case of ‘too little, too late.’

For the same reason, prudence demands that celebration of Holi be postponed to coincide with success against COVID-19.

Further, the disruptions caused by the many pro/anti CAA gatherings and rallies have led to rioting, which in turn has flooded the hospitals with casualties. The attention of the medicos and other support agencies that are expected to fight COVID-19 is divided.

There’s an urgent need to regain focus. While some schools in Noida and Delhi have been closed as a ‘precautionary measure,’ avoidance of congregation and travel of any type––besides sticking to the medical advisory in letter and spirit––would help combat spread of COVID-19.

Lastly, ‘Saluting’ or extending a ‘Salaam’ as a Jawan does, or joining hands in a ‘Namaste’ to greet people could be a much better option than shaking hands to avoid physical contact. Besides, the art of saluting will come in handy in the not too distant future when there’ll be a natural urge to SALUTE those on the frontline of the war against COVID-19.

A Goof and a Tarnished Golf Trophy

They were beginners.

They had purchased old; second hand golf sets with assorted clubs with worn-out grips and dilapidated bags. They played with old balls, reserving the new, and the better ones only for the putting greens. They used the oldest ball in their bag, on the fifth tee for the fear of losing a good one in the water hazard. They had not been exposed to the wisdom of playing with a new ball.

They could strike a ball clean from the tee––not muffing it––just about fifty per cent of the times. But only on half of those contacts, the ball would take a decent flight and land in the fairway. A mini celebration would ensue every time their approach shots from within a hundred yards range landed on the green––that happened as rarely as the solar eclipses. They took, on an average, not less than two and a half strokes on the putting green to hole out. They played for honour; betting only once in a blue moon with breakfast of eggs and toasted bread with jam and butter at stake. Ignorant of the rules, they played with consensus until one of them picked up an old out-dated booklet of golf rules from a street vendor, which they referred only when a dispute remained unresolved for a few days.

Amit Ahluwalia (Alu), Anil Jain, Gopal Phanse and Biswajeet Ghose had been bitten by the golf bug. If they had their way, they would spend their entire lives on the greens. But wishes don’t have wings. Gupta Law Associates (GLA) kept the four young lawyers tethered to their workstations through the week. Nonetheless, their weekends were devoted to golf––it was a ritual they never skipped. Winning or losing the game was less material; they would do ‘anything’ to snatch an opportunity to play.

Anything!

It was far easier to plead and convince a judge presiding over a criminal case than to persuade Harsh Gupta the seventy-nine year old Chairman of Gupta Law Associates (GLA) to spare the young men for a few hours on a workday even for their personal errands. Being spared to play golf––there was no chance whatsoever. How Alu sold the idea to the old man is a guarded secret. But suffice it to say that at the end of their seven-minute interaction, Harsh Gupta had not only agreed to field a team to represent GLA in the HH Maharaja Jayachamaraja Wadiyar Golf Championship at the JWGC, Mysore but had also sanctioned all their expenses including a sleeve of golf balls and a tee shirt each. The old man had possibly calculated the net gains that would accrue to his law firm by way of publicity due to the presence of his emissaries in Mysore amidst what he considered an elite crowd.

With a registered handicap of 18 and actual performance no better than 24, none of them stood the remotest chance of making the cut at the end of the first round. Winning a prize in the Stableford format on the final day was out of the question. They knew their limitations well. Yet their urge ‘just to play’ another round was rather strong.

In the first day’s fixtures their names appeared together in a four-ball. In that, Alu saw an opportunity and a ray of hope. He came up with a scheme. He suggested that they played exactly as they played on their parent golf course in Bangalore––changing the balls on the putting greens and conceding short (one grip length) putts. That would give them the advantage of a few strokes and a possible chance of making the cut. He also suggested a ‘rolling’ mulligan that could be availed discreetly on any hole. “I’ll ‘manage’ the caddies,” he added slyly.

“But that would be unfair to the other golfers participating in the tournament,” protested Jain.

“You are right,” reflected Alu. “But that’s our only hope to qualify and play another round. In any case, with our known performances, none of us will win a prize tomorrow even if we were to qualify today. A little manipulation will not harm other people’s chances of winning a trophy.” Then, after a pause for effect, Alu continued, “Jain, if you avoid being Satyawadi Harishchandra for a change, all of us could enjoy another day of golf.” He looked at Ghose and Phanse who extended tacit support. Unsure and reluctant, Jain also gave in.

To cut the long story short, at the end of the first day’s play, all four of them stood somewhere on the leader board entitling them to play the final round the next morning. That evening they enjoyed the gala party hosted by the organisers. How they had made the cut was forgotten soon enough.

Gimme!

For the final round they were put in different four-balls. Everything changed––no mulligan, no ‘gimme’. It made no difference to them because they had achieved their aim of playing another day. Scores didn’t matter anymore. In fact there was nothing to write home about when they submitted their scorecards. They wanted to set course back for Bangalore as soon as possible but then, as a mark of respect for the organisers they decided to stay back for the prize distribution.

They sat in the last row cracking occasional jokes, eating plum cakes and sipping fresh fruit juices. The announcements being made as a part of the prize distribution ceremony were falling on their deaf ears so that when the name of the runner-up for the prize for the Stableford Net Score (handicap 18 and under) was announced they didn’t monitor it. Anil Jain’s name had to be called thrice before he could register and respond to the call. He had to literally run to the podium to receive his trophy. The sense of winning a prize dawned on him only a half hour later when, on their drive back to Bangalore Alu demanded a treat for Anil’s ‘achievement’.

Next morning in the office: Harsh Gupta felicitated Jain in the presence of the office staff. There was a high tea to commemorate his win at the golf tournament. “It is GLA’s achievement,” said an elated Gupta. There was a photo session with the trophy. And then…

And then came an exuberant Alu. “Congratulations, Bro!” he said with a broad smile as they shook hands and hugged. “Great game! You have been hitting well over the last few days. I knew you would win a prize….” Despite Alu’s effort to be innocuous, Anil felt that every word he uttered was loaded with meaning. “Am I imagining things,” he wondered. A smirk on Alu’s face laid that doubt to rest––Alu was mocking him. Anil also sensed indifference in the way Ghose and Phanse greeted him on his maiden golfing success.

In the evening, when Anil returned home his wife, Sheela wiped the already glittering trophy clean with one end of her dupatta and placed it proudly in the glass showcase in the drawing room. Ideally, that should have been the end of a not so pleasant chapter for Anil.

Not really….

That day onwards, whenever Anil looked at the trophy, rather than getting a sense of fulfilment, it only depressed him. Golfing with his buddies was not the same either––he began seeing meaning in whatever the other three guys said. Carrying the burden of ‘that’ maiden golf trophy was becoming increasingly difficult for Anil until one day it became absolutely unbearable.

Sheela looked at the trophy and said, “Anil this golf trophy is tarnished.” Then turning it over, she exclaimed, “Oh my God, this is real silver. It must be 200 grams. This will require repeated polishing…. I don’t mind you playing more often if you win trophies like this one….” While she continued with her monologue, Anil was stuck with one word: “T-A-R-N-I-S-H-E-D.”

Anil couldn’t bear the guilt of unfair play any longer. The next day he called the Secretary of the JWGC, Mysore and expressed his desire to return the trophy. His lips quivered as he cited his reason for returning the trophy. Mr Madhavan was, first, shell-shocked, and then, touched by what he heard. Collecting himself he said it was fine so long as Anil regretted his action; he didn’t have to return the trophy. After a little ado, he agreed to take back the trophy and present it for fair play to a deserving player in the next tournament.

At the prize distribution ceremony of the HH Maharaja Jayachamaraja Wadiyar Golf Championship next year, Madhavan made a surprise announcement; that of award of ‘Fair Play Trophy’. Without citing any name he spoke about Anil’s confession and called some Dr Sanjay Dixit to receive the trophy––Dixit had been selected by a panel of judges for the honour.

Amid loud clapping, euphoria and standing ovation, Dixit came to the podium and received the trophy. Then with all humility, he returned it to the Chief Guest saying, “I thank the organisers for finding me suitable for the ‘Fair Play Trophy’. But I would not like to take home a ‘Tarnished Trophy’.

For a long minute, there was pin drop silence. And when people spoke again, the ‘Tarnished Trophy’ had become a talk of the town. After much thought the General Body of the JWGC decided to place the “Tarnished Trophy” in the foyer of the Club––with its brief history cited below it.

Now, the trophy inspires players with a conscience, to be loyal to the royal in them.

(Author’s Note: The resemblance of names of persons and places mentioned in this story to real persons and places is incidental).

Trump-Darroch Spat & Admiral Awati

National Defence Academy, Khadakwasla (1977).

Rear Admiral MP Avati (later, Vice Admiral), the Commandant, wasn’t amused when cadets mocked him on the stage. It was an Inter Battalion Dramatics Competition and cadets acting as roadside magicians (madaris) had gone overboard with their act. With the wave of a wand one had turned an on-stage Admiral Awati into a goat; and the goat went bleating until the play lasted. The antics of the cadets were in bad taste.

Few appreciated that stage performance. Yet, to everyone’s surprise, the Admiral walked up to the stage after the play and started bleating somewhat like the cadets had done a while ago. He waited for the officers and the families to vacate the auditorium and when only the cadets were left behind in that closed space, he made another small speech, the sum and substance of which was: “Future officers of the Indian armed forces do not behave like this. I don’t approve of this sense of humour.”

Vice Admiral MP Awati PVSM VrC (graphic courtesy Latestlaws.com)

In the following days, did some heads roll? Were the producer, director and actors of the skit taken to task? Might have been; might not. Most of us never came to know. In fact, nearly half a century later, all that is of no relevance. What is really relevant is the message that went down to a thousand five hundred future officers, and through them, to thousands more. And the message was not about ‘mocking/ not mocking superiors’, but a more serious one––it was about the art of speaking one’s mind and leaving a lasting impression.

Fast-forward forty years; a different geographical location; different characters but quite a similar situation in some ways. When Ambassador Sir Kim Darroch wrote a memo to his government expressing his ‘free and frank’ opinion about President Trump and his Administration, he was performing his solemn duty as UK’s representative in the US. It is just that the confidential communication got leaked and embarrassed the governments and a whole lot of individuals on either side of the Atlantic.

The spat that followed is unprecedented. President Trump stopped short of declaring Ambassador Darroch persona non grata. Saying, “We will no longer deal with the ambassador,” and calling Sir Darroch, “Whacky,” was no less damaging. It would perhaps have been a different spectacle, had President Trump dealt with the situation in a more amicable way––like Admiral Awati––behind closed doors.

All-weather Friends?

Needless to say, at this moment the US-UK relations are at their lowest ebb since the Boston Tea Party. Yet, Ambassador Darroch’s resignation is not likely to be the proverbial last nail in the coffin of their partnership––they cannot afford to let it be. Even in times of extreme crisis these two all-weather friends have lived with certain amount of lack of trust. At the peak of World War II (1944), the Americans had put the pilots of the RAF in a (friendly) lock up in Purulia to maintain the secrecy of their B-29 Super Fortress bomber operations against the Japanese.

Country’s interest comes first!

Today, both UK and US are facing the worst crisis since World War II. The US is grappling with Iran, China, Syria, North Korea and Mexico (not to talk of the irritant that has cropped up because of President Trump’s recent racist tweets against congresswomen). The UK, on the other hand, has its hands full with Brexit and the urgency to form a new and stable government. The sacrifice of a diplomat on the altar of their mutual relations would be put on the back-burner for the time being; to be put under the carpet later.

At this juncture, any further dip in relations will be a monumental mutual loss. In a zero-sum game, who’ll gain from their strain? A third party?

मेरा भारत (वाकई) महान!

आजकल देश में बारहों महीने देश-भक्ति की लहर होती है। कोई न कोई  राजनीतिक दल या समुदाय किसी न किसी महान व्यक्ति को याद कर रहा होता है––कभी लोग गाँधी को, तो कभी भगत सिंह को; कभी नेहरू को तो कभी महाराणा प्रताप को याद करते हैं। कोई न मिले, तो लोग अपने श्रद्धा सुमन देश पर मर-मिटने वाले शहीद जवानों पर ही अर्पण कर देते हैं। देश-भक्ति के छोटे-बड़े हिलकोरों से भारत सदा मनमस्त रहता है। गणतन्त्र दिवस और स्वतन्त्रता दिवस के अवसर पर तो मानो देश-भक्ति की सुनामी ही आ जाती है।

राष्ट्रपर्वों पर राष्ट्रध्वज की शान निराली होती है। न जाने कहाँ-कहाँ से निकल कर तिरंगा हर हिलती-डुलती और चलती-फिरती वस्तु और वाहन पर शान से लहराता दिखाई देने लगता है। फिर झण्डा प्लास्टिक का हो, सिल्क का हो, या असली खादी का, कोई मायने नहीं रखता। देशवासियों की भावनाओं का ध्यान रखते हुए कुछ लोग कागज़-कपडे वाले मुद्दे को तूल नहीं देते, तो कुछ उस ‘तुच्छ’ मुद्दे को (फिलहाल) दरकिनार कर देते हैं। ऐसे समय तिरंगे की बिक्री शीर्ष पर होती है। और क्यों न हो, उसका एक-एक ताना-बाना देश प्रेम की भावना से जो रंगा होता है। लोग जो भी कहें, तिरंगा तिरंगा होता है, उसका भी अपना दिन होता है।

और फिर, ऐसे समय शब्द, सुर, ताल और लय कैसे भी हों––गली, नुक्कड़ और चौराहों पर लाउड-स्पीकरों पर देश-भक्ति से सराबोर गीत निर्जीव से निर्जीव व्यक्ति में प्राण फूँक देते हैं। इसी प्रकार, टीवी चैनलों पर देश-भक्ति से ओत-प्रोत सीरियलों और फिल्मों का अम्बार सा लग जाता है। एक प्रकार से देश-भक्तों में देश-भक्ति दर्शाने की होड़ सी लग जाती है।

देश भक्त फिल्म निर्माता और अभिनेता न केवल अपनी देश के युद्ध गौरव को दर्शाती बहुसितारा (मल्टीस्टारर) फिल्मों को इसी दौरान पर्दों उतरने की उधेड़बुन में रहते हैं, बल्कि सिद्धिविनायक मंदिर में माथा टेक कर उन फिल्मों की सफलता के लिए मन्नत भी मांगते हैं। भगवान फिल्म उद्योग की सुनता भी खूब है। देखिये न, लोग मेजर कुलदीप सिंह चांदपुरी को कम, सनी देओल को 1971 भारत-पाक युद्ध का नायक ज्यादा मानते हैं; मेरी कॉम से ज्यादा प्रियंका चोपड़ा को पहचानते हैं।

मेरा भारत (वास्तव में) महान है!

इन राष्ट्रीय पर्वों के बारे में मेरे बचपन की यादें सीदी-सादी हैं और आज, पचास साल बाद, भी बिलकुल स्पष्ट और ताजा हैं। क्यों न हों? बस्ते की झंझट नहीं, आधे दिन बाद स्कूल की छुट्टी हो जाती थी। ध्वजारोहण के बाद सब “वन्दे मातरं” गाते थे; प्रिंसिपल के भाषण के बाद देश भक्ति के कुछ गीत और नाटक होते थे। थोड़ी देर देश के वीर शहीदों के बारे में सोचते थे, उनसे प्रेरित होते थे। “भारत माता की जय” के नारे और वीर पुरुषों की गाथाएं बालमन को देश के प्रति उदात्त भावना से भर देती थीं। चाहे मोतीचूर के लड्डूओं के बँटते ही घर की तरफ गिल्ली-डंडा खेलने भागते थे, लेकिन भावना कुछ ऐसी होती थी कि कहीं भी, कभी भी, “जन गण मन….” की धुन कानों में पड़ती थी, तो सबकुछ छोड़ कर सीधे खड़े हो जाते थे। और फिर, पूरे वर्ष महारानी लक्ष्मीबाई, महाराणा प्रताप, शहीद भगत सिंह, चंद्र शेखर आजाद आदि की चर्चा होती थी। भावना कुछ ऐसी होती थी, जिसकी परिकल्पना सरलता से शब्दों में नहीं की जा सकती है।

मेरा भारत तब भी महान था!

फिर से वर्तमान में…

हाल ही में, मैं अपनी तीसरी पीढ़ी के एक बालक के साथ कार में सैर रहा था। बालक निश्चय ही मेधावी है। रास्ते में करीब साठ फुट ऊँचे खम्बे पर लहराता तिरंगा दिखाई दिया। झण्डा देख कर मेरा सीना गर्व से फूल गया। मैंने सम्मान से उसे निहारा और बालक से पूछा, “बेटा, जब आप अपना राष्ट्रीय ध्वज देखते हैं, तो आपके मन में कैसे विचार आते हैं?”

मेरा भारत महान!

उस अपेक्षापूर्ण प्रश्न के उत्तर की प्रतीक्षा करने में मुझे कोई ऐतराज नहीं था।

परन्तु…

परन्तु, बालक ने एक बार झंडे को और एक बार मुझे अर्थहीन दृष्टि से ताका। सच मानिये, उस छोटे से बालक ने मुझे, और (मेरे प्यारे) झंडे को “देखा नहीं”, उसने असल में हमें “ताका”। फिर वह तपाक से और भावहीनता से बोला, “नानाजी, वास्तव में, कुछ नहीं; तिरंगे को देख कर मेरे मन में कोई विचार नहीं आते हैं।”

मुझ पर मानो गाज गिर गयी। परन्तु मैं भी हार मानने वाला कहाँ था? भूतपूर्व वायु-योद्धा जो हूँ।

“क्या तिरंगा आपको देश के वीरों की और शहीदों की याद नहीं दिलाता है? इसे देख कर आप के मन में देश प्रेम की भावना जागृत नहीं होती है?” मैंने बच्चे से हर शब्द पर अत्यधिक जोर देकर पूछा। मेरी उम्मीदों का बांध और ऊँचा हो चुका था।

उस बालक के उत्तर ने मेरी उम्मीदों के बांध को तहस-नहस कर दिया और उसकी तबाही से आने वाले सैलाब में मैं बह गया, डूब गया। अवाक, निस्तब्ध… मैं उसे देखता ही रह गया। वह बड़ी सहजता से बोला, “नानाजी, मुझे इतना अधिक होमवर्क करना होता है कि मेरे पास देश और तिरंगे के विषय में सोचने का समय ही नहीं बच पता है।”

हतप्रभ, मैं उस नादान को पथराई आँखों से देखता ही रह गया।

भारी मन से मैंने कार आगे बढ़ा दी।

अभी थोड़ा ही चले थे कि एक विशाल विज्ञापन-पट (होर्डिंग) पर गाँधी जी की भव्य तस्वीर देखी। मेरे मन में देश-भक्ति का उबार एक बार फिर आया। आया और चला गया।  मेरी हिम्मत नहीं हुई कि नन्हे बालक से पूछ लूँ, “ये कौन हैं?” मन में आशंका थी कि कहीं बच्चा जवाब में यह न कह दे, “नानाजी, यह तो बेन किंग्सले है।”

निश्चित ही, मेरा भारत महान है। सदैव रहेगा।

देश प्रेम और देश भक्ति पर अभी और कहना बाकी है…

(यह पोस्ट मेरे अंग्रेजी पोस्ट “I Love My India” का हिंदी रूपान्तर है, जिसके लिए मैं अपनी प्रिय बहन प्रोफेसर रीता जैन का आभारी हूँ।)

Dead Men Tell No Tales. Do Dead Terrorists Do?

There was carnage in Sri Lanka last month on Easter Sunday. The Lankans had somehow missed out on (read “doubted”) the lead provided by the Indian intelligence agencies and paid a heavy price for it (Aftermath of Lanka Blasts: Of Open Stable Doors and Bolting Steeds). Perhaps some of the blasts could have been averted had they heeded the Indian warning. Oh really!?  But then those very Indian agencies that provided a ‘clue’ to the Sri Lankans could not place a finger on the Pulwama terror attack in time. Was it a ‘lapse’ or ‘failure of intelligence’ as the media often dubs it? Can they be held responsible (squarely) for the terror strike? There are no straight answers to those rhetorical questions. There can’t really be. One can debate them, with no conclusion whatsoever, till the cows come home.

Needless to say, the job of the intelligence agencies is becoming tougher by the day. Sifting the mountains of information that they come across and zeroing on what matters, before the terrorists execute their missions, is not an enviable job. It is definitely more challenging than looking for a needle in the haystack.

Time to take stock

Dead men tell no tales but dead terrorists do. If one were to go by the media reports, the security forces have recovered a sketch from the body of a terrorist killed in an encounter in Shopian earlier this week. The sketch indicates that terror groups are planning suicide attacks at Indian Air Force bases at Srinagar and Awantipur.

How seriously, can such ‘sketches’ or any other clues be taken? Is another Pathankot, Uri or Pulwama brewing? May be; may not be. Could this ‘sketch’ just be a red herring; could the actual target be different––Delhi? Mumbai? Bengaluru? Hyderabad? Noida? Ghaziabad?

Read on, for a lesson from the past…

Target?

At a time when the World War II was peaking and the Germans and the Italians were wondering about the Allied plans in the Mediterranean, the British engineered a smart ruse. They got the body of a soldier, who had died of pneumonia and dressed him in the attire of a Royal Navy Courier and gave him the identity of one ‘Major Martin’. They secured a briefcase to his wrist, the way classified documents were carried in those days, and left his body floating at sea, off a Spanish Port. The briefcase contained ‘secret’ letters––addressed to British diplomats in Cairo indicating an Allied intention of landings in Greece. As expected, the dead Major Martin was found by some Spaniards and handed over to their Government officials. The Spaniards photographed the documents before handing over the body (and the briefcase) to the British Naval Attaché in Madrid. And again, as expected the Spaniards turned over the photographs of the documents to the Germans who took them to be genuine.

The ruse worked; the Germans were grossly misled. The British and the American airborne forces landed at Sicily and ‘surprised’ the Germans.

“Dead men (and may be, dead terrorists) can tell cooked up tales to cover their trails.”

So?

That terror groups in Jammu and Kashmir are planning attacks in the Valley is a new normal. In this instance the intelligence agencies have logically concluded that Pakistan-based groups might carry out an attack on May 23, the day when counting of votes for Lok Sabha election 2019 will take place. Although, as per the reports, Indian Air Force bases in Srinagar and Awantipur are the likely targets, nothing prevents the terrorists from changing their mind. Or, do they already have a ‘different’ plan? Who knows? Therefore, a really tough time awaits the intelligence agencies and security forces.

Three simple things that a common man can do to strengthen their hands are:

  • Share information only if it is a must, after verifying the truthfulness.
  • Travel and congregate only if it is a must––roads clear of undue traffic, and less crowded public spaces, enhance the efficiency of the intelligence and security personnel.
  • Stay vigilant.

Not a tall order?!  

Aftermath of Lanka Blasts: Of Open Stable Doors and Bolting Steeds

Forty-nine people were confirmed dead and many others injured, in the shootings in two mosques in Christchurch (New Zealand) on March 15, 2019. The shootings were a wake-up call, nay a jolt for people all over the world. In a post titled, “Christchurch Carnage: A Wake-up Call for United Front Against Terrorism” I had talked about the killings and had concluded thus:

“To conclude, what happened in New Zealand will have obvious implications for New Zealand and Australia; the rest of the world will also not remain unaffected. There are two clear options for the world at large: one, to brace for impact without really knowing where and when would the next attack take place. Or two, unite against the perpetrators and wipe out the source. Today is the day, now is the time to get into a huddle, before the Masood Azhars, the Hafiz Saeeds, the Zawahiris, the Baghdadis and the Bin Ladens unleash retaliatory strikes.”

As if that conclusion was lost in thin air.

Less than a month later on April 21, 2019 (Easter Sunday) in Sri Lanka, more than 250 people were killed and hundreds were injured in eight blasts that rocked the island nation. Churches and hotels crowded by Easter revellers were the targets of the suicide bombers. Deaths (read “killings”) continue as the search operations go on. 

Although it was not déjà vu or a case of “I-told-you-so,” many people were not so surprised by what happened in Sri Lanka. Imminence of retaliation to the Christchurch killings was a forgone conclusion. A bit surprising was the location of the strike. That the terrorists did not strike in New Zealand or Australia but chose Sri Lanka, might suggest that this wasn’t a case of retaliation. But that matters little, because those involved in terror attacks (Christchurch or Sri Lanka or elsewhere in the world) perhaps believe in numbers––“Numbers killed on one side offset the numbers killed on the other side.”

The numbers do not offset; they add (Image: Reuters)

That is far from the truth. The fact is: numbers add up. Another counter that picks up speed after every attack is the one that counts the number of neutral people jumping off the fence to join a side in the war against the other. They are the ones who can be easily poisoned and indoctrinated; and among them are the potential suicide bombers. Their number keeps swelling after each gory incident.   

One wonders if it is turning out to be a case of jihad in Sri Lanka in reply to the crusade in New Zealand. While there are no straight answers to that question, more people all over the world are now bound to live in the shadow of fear. The many raids in Sri Lanka; banning of organisations and banning of burqua are some of the indicators of the paranoia that has set in. Similar actions with regards to ‘tightening of security’ have come into effect in other parts of the world.

Now about containing the menace: is it a case of the proverbial stable door being locked after the horse has bolted? Or, it is a case of the stable not having a door at all? Who’ll strike and what will be the next target: a mosque, a church, a synagogue, a temple or a crowded mall, a beach or a theatre/ movie hall? The question lingers menacingly as life tends to trudge back to some semblance of normalcy.     

Much has been said about the failure of the Sri Lankan authorities to act on the intelligence inputs provided by Indian agencies. Accusations are being hurled; the leadership, at different levels in Sri Lanka has acknowledged the lapse and some heads have rolled. But think of it, these were the same Indian agencies that could not see through the planning of the Pulwama Terror Strike. For that reason, the Sri Lankan security set up cannot be blamed entirely for the lapse. Intelligence reports need to be evaluated before concrete action can be taken. Many a warning in the past has turned out to be a hoax. During the Gerald Ford Presidency in the US, there was a suggestion to vacate an entire city due to the threat of detonation of a nuclear device, which turned out to be a hoax.

Dealing with intelligence reports is a rather difficult and complex issue.

In a few days the stats and the chronology of the Sri Lanka blasts will get added to the existing figures. To the rest of world they will start mattering less.

When 9/11 took place, and the whole world was sympathising with the grieving Americans, there, in some small quarters was an apparent brutal indifference manifested by lack of surprise––“What goes around comes around.” Sri Lankan blasts have proved the fallacy of that line of thought. A more appropriate way of understanding the present state of affairs would be to consider such attacks as some sort of a Butterfly Effect––An event (although not small and insignificant) in one part of the world (New Zealand) triggering repercussions in another (Sri Lanka). It matters little where an ocean gets muddied first; when the water gets contaminated the effect reaches far off shores. It is only a matter of time.

Therein lies the importance of the need of a united approach to dealing with the menace of terrorism. It is never too late to get going. The UNSC has included Masood Azhar in the list of global terrorists. One hopes that countries will continue to see eye to eye and take coordinated action to rid the world of terror groups and terrorists.