Mumbai: Why This Time is Different

As one watches the aftermath of the terror attacks in Mumbai, there is a sense that this is a tipping point in how Indians think about and respond to both terror and our politicians.  This time around, there is no going back to ‘business as usual’ for a number of reasons:

The Location where it happened: South Mumbai (which is also where I live) has long been seen as above everything – be it floods or terror strikes. There was a sense of “but nothing can happen to us” in people here. This illusion has now been shattered. It is like some people came into our home and did lots of damage in front of our own eyes.  The brazenness of the attack and the audacity of the terrorists has finally hit us.

The People who died: This time around, it is not just the unknown innocent bystanders who got killed, but people whom we knew. Talk to people and they all have their stories of someone who was either there at the Taj, Trident or Oberoi on Wednesday evening, and miraculously escaped or wasn’t so lucky. So, the pain is more personal, and has impacted people who have a Voice rather than just a Vote.  Harsh though it may sound, not all lives (or deaths) are equal – some are more important than others.  This time, for the first time, the People Who Matter couldn’t but help think that it could have been them in there.

The Way it happened: It was not a few bombs going off and us watching just the aftermath of the rescue operations. This time around, it was, as a friend put it, ‘a reality show unfolding live on TV.’ For three days, there is little else we could talk and think about. Every step the terrorists and the commandos made was played out in front of our own eyes – against the backdrop of institutions we knew.

The Backdrop of the Elections: Suddenly, national security has become issue number 1. Even as elections are happening in some states, there is a national generation election due within the next six months. After a day of show of unity when the top politicians travelled together from Delhi to Mumbai, those in power have realised that this is an issue (even more than the Economy) which can result in them being voted out. The campaign for Elections 2009 has already begun.

Enough is Enough: With more than a dozen terror attacks in the past few years across India, there is a yearning for the tranquil that the US has experienced after 9/11. Yes, we will all have to give up a little bit of something. But that is a small price to ensure the safety of our near and dear ones. If the US can do it (ensure safety for its citizens), why can’t we?

The Obama Effect: Even as the US is set to usher in a government under Obama with an incredibly smart set of people, we in India are increasingly frustrated by the incompetence and brainlessness of an increasingly large number of our politicians. Obama has made us a yearn for Change – Dramatic Change – in our own country. He has shown us not if we the masses rise, we can bring about Change.

Put it all together, and there is a palpable sense of outrage and fear in people – outrage because of the failure of the politicians and bureaucrats to prevent such attacks, and fear because there is no guarantee that this will not happen again somewhere else in India in the next few months (or weeks). There is also a tremendous sense of Pride at the armed forces – whom we saw in live action through the days. Put it all together, and these mixed feelings create a restlessness within. That’s why it is not like previous times. This time, it is different. And if out of this, we finally get a government of the people, for the people, and by the people, then those 195 deaths will not have been in vain.

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