Minutes after the aircraft hit the second World Trade Center tower, President George W. Bush was on national (and international television) talking about the incident. Besides the President, many senior US administration officials have been on TV on a regular basis to update everyone on what has been happening. This helps prevent rumours and speculation, and more importantly, gives confidence to the people watching that there is someone in charge and rallies them towards a common cause.
If there is one thing that comes out watching the aftermath of the attacks in the US, it is that of the need for immediate, clear and extensive communications. This is one area which India has been lacking in.
India has had two serious “foreign affairs” crises in the past few years: the hijacking of IC-184 to ironically, Kandahar in Afghanistan, and the Kargil War. Most recently, we had the India-Pakistan summit in Agra, which was very much in the full glare of the media. In every case, we had a public relations and communications disaster.
Writes Shekhar Gupta in the Indian Express:
Governments screw up all the time and democracies are most imperfect. But the Americans have now shown you how a government of real systems, laws and experience gets its act together. Unlike us during Agra, Kandahar, Kargil, this one is not hiding from the media. Nor is it speaking selectively to certain journalists or channels, answering a few questions, and hoping the rest of the media would pick it up.
Another learning from the events of the past week has been the bipartisanship among the Republicans and the Democrats in the US. The Congress and Senate met and approved not just aid of USD 40 billion towards the rebuilding effort, but also the use of military force. There was not a single dissenting voice. The whole nation, led by its leaders, has rallied about the President. This is the political maturity that Indian leaders need to learn.
What did we do after the Tehelka expose? We demanded and got the resignation of our Defence Minister, George Fernandes, one of the abler people in the Union Cabinet. As citizens, we need to learn a lot from the way Americans have handled this crisis. Shekhar Gupta once again:
Contrast the trademark shrillness of our public response with the understated dignity of the Americans. There is no public outcry to go bomb somebody – here, both during Kargil and Kandahar, public opinion was like a lynch mob, cross the LoC, carpet bomb something, sort this problem out “once and forever”.In the US, no one of any consequence has said a word against Islam or the Arabs, there is no clamour for instant revenge.
As we watch TV and the images unfold in front of us, it is time to do some thinking about what we as a nation can learn from America. Crises and disasters are not under our control. How we respond is.