Friday, September 26, 2008

Jaago Re- One Billion Votes

I had seen the add on TV , but I didn't know that it was also an online campaign ; untill I got an email form one of my friends, telling me about this initiative jaago re, started by an NGO . It aims to spread awareness about voting and also makes it bit easier for first time voters to get registered on voting lists. There is lots of useful information on the site for first time voters. Considering that many of us do not vote and think that it is not going to make any difference, it is a good initiative to spread the message that voting is what makes a difference in a democracy.

I also sort of like thier site and its integration with Maps. Nice job done. It will make a difference in its own little way. For me what works is that, it brings voter registration form right upto your desk, so all you have to do is fill it up and sumbit it to office whose address you will get from the site.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Terror Crackdown - Post Delhi Blasts, A defining moment?

In a highly polarized environment, truth is often the victim. In fact in such a scenario, there are many versions of truth. The recent crackdown on suspected terrorists in India is an example of how polarized our society has become.

Following is Police version:

From SIMI to IM: It all started with death of MC Sharma, a decorated police officer of Delhi Police, who while raiding a hideout of suspected terrorists was killed by gun shots. Two persons suspected to be terrorists belonging to Indian Mujahideen (IM) were also killed in encounter and 2 other were caught. Sharma was hailed as hero by media and Delhi Police which also claimed that with this encounter they had busted the IM module which was largely responsible for multiple terror attacks in country for past 2 years or so. The arrest of terrorists soon triggered a chain of events, and in next few days many raids were conducted throughout the country and suspected terrorists were nabbed in Ahmedabad, Mumbai and other parts of country. Police claimed that the success of operation was due to inteligence sharing among various states and central agencies. The terror jigsaw is not yet fully solved but pieces are falling in place, they claim. So if one accepts police version as truth, then IM is responsible for recent series of bomb blasts in country, and is a splinter group of banned SIMI (Student Islamic Movement of India). IM was born out of SIMI soon after Gujarat riots, ostensibly, to avenge killing of Muslims. SIMI had its root in Aligarh Muslim University and had thousands of members throughout country. As per Police, SIMI was a moderate group to start with but got increasingly radicalized over the years with radical elements being driven by Safdar Nagauri, the secretary general of SIMI (a 8 years old interview with him is here, proving his radical views). The friction between Nagauri and moderate faction ultimately let to Breaking of SIMI, which police says can be compared with that of breaking up of Hamas, where one breakaway group became millitant by violence and terror tactics.

The Onset of Hunt: IM was unique in the way that its members were educated youth, many of them even engineers and MBAs. They operated in small and largely independent modules. The anger which Muslims felt after Gujarat riots was used by people like Nagauri to get young , educated members into his unit. He also specifically looked for technically qualified youths and those who had some angst or grudges against the state or police. IM also got hooked to LeT (Lashkar e Toiba) which helped it with initial trainings and funds. Trainings were conducted in various parts of country in Jungles of Kerala to Karnataka. Recruits were taught to swim, fire pistols, and make bombs. After a camp, these recruits would then fan out to many places and build their network of terror. Police started the hunt after the bomb blasts in UP and name of IM for first time emerged. Unlike in past, when most of bomb blasts used to be handiwork of Pakistanis, this time evidence was pointing out to homegrown terror groups. As many bomb blats followed in many Indian cities, Police found it tough to crack the cases and it was due to nature of IM and how they operated. Things were also tough for police as the intelligence was scattered and every state police acted independently. The real break came with arrest of Safdar Nagauri a secretary general SIMI from Madhya Pradesh and then later with arrest of Abu Bashar a recruit of IM , soon after Ahmedabad blasts. These two key members provided vital clues in functioning on IM and after Delhi blasts, the proverbial camel's back was broken. There was tremendous hue and cry throughout the country to act tough on terror. The central government which was slack in taking tough steps until now (perhaps thinkning that it will upset muslim community) was jolted out of its reverie. All states were asked to coordinate their efforts, share intelligence and act as one team. The bits and pieces of intelligence collected over the years by various state police were sewn together and sketchy leads were formed, good enough to act upon. And this is how MC Sharma was asked to raid a flat in Delhi which eventually led to killing of 2 suspected IM terrorists and capturing of 2 more. Unfortunately, Sharma who was not wearing his Bullet proof jacket also lost his life. Two suspected terrorists were reported to have escaped during encounter. Sharma was hailed and quite deservingly, a hero, and his funeral was attended by many politician including home minister, who untill few days ago was about to be ejected out of his office.

The Jigsaw getting solved : There have been various press conferences by different state police, and the final picture is pretty much consistent, albeit with some loose ends which could raise doubts. I think it is primarily due to the fact that even though various states collaborated in operation, the news conferences were done independently and in hurry. So we had a scenario that mastermind of terror was changing every day. In my opinion, considering the sensitive nature of crackdown, police should have been more careful with press conferences. One gets an impression that either state police departments were competing against each other, trying to stake the claim of cracking the module or they were pressurized by Government to go public, keeping in view of the upcoming election. Regardless of this, If one has to believe this version of police story as the truth, and I use if because, unfortunately, past shenanigans of Police in India, do not give it much credibility, then the picture of terror in India looks frightening and grim. Terror now is pretty much home grown. The catchment area of terrorists seems to be in UP and profile of terrorists have changed dramatically. They are now well educated young men with normal lives. An MBA here, two Software engineer there. So are these guys terrorists? If we believe police, then yes, they are. They are driven by hatred for Government and for majority community and they want to avenge atrocities which they think are done on their community. They are also fed by people like Safdar Nagauri to do jehad for Muslim Caliphate. They are indoctrinated to extent that they place bombs in children's parks and even hospitals. They plant bombs, come back to their normal lives, watch blasts news on TV and celebrate their success.

The another version:

But this is one version of truth. There is another version which in unfolding on Muslim blogs and discussion forums and generally in that community. They believe that recent crackdown are nothing but part of conspiracy to corner the community. Many of them have raised doubts about authenticity of Delhi encounter and they suspect that it is fake. In fact many don’t suspect but believe that encounter was fake and many conspiracy theories are doing rounds. They would even believe that Sharma was killed as part of larger plan to pass the encounter as real and to use it to target muslims. They think that people caught by police are innocent young Muslim men and they are being targeted for being Muslims. They even question why terrorists were paraded in muslim scarves (even though I have seen otehr criminals being hooded in same scarves).They ask questions of how good students, doing their MBAs could be terrorists. People of Aajamgarh, the native place of most of terror suspects, dont believe that there is any iota of truth in Polcie version. They think that thier good studious sons have been wrongly caught or killed and made a scapegoat. Many theories are doing rounds and generally the community is in fear and suspicion. They suspect the Police, the media and the Government. Even a legitimate voice trying to reason often gets lost as the level of mistrust are high.

And the Politics :With upcoming elections, when all parties would try to consolidate their vote banks, the polarization is bound to increase. The BJP would pressurize governments to have tougher terror laws. Muslims would perceive tougher terror laws as being a tool to harass them. Police, will catch some more terrorists including some innocents who will be counted as collateral damage. Muslims would huddle together and raise noise about them being targeted. BJP would raise fears in majority community by citing resistance of Muslims against tough terror laws. Jamia Milia Islamia would stand by its students caught as terrorists and Hindu Nationalists would brand it as against national interests.

And to those who care, let it be known that this is start of a defining time in life of this secular republic.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Delhi Bomb Blasts and well attired Home Minister

It has almost become a monthly ritual now. Bombs go in tandem in an Indian city, scores of people are blown to death, hundreds are maimed and scarred, Media goes into tizzy, mobile network get jammed and Government issues same old statement about its resolve to fight terrorism. And then in couple of days everything is forgotten. In fact, with bomb blasts happening with this alarming regularity, I wonder if terrorists have to think of something else to really shock and scare us now!!

The face of terror has changed: Last Saturday it was turn of Delhi to be targeted. The pattern was same which has emerged in recent few blasts and is being credited, if one might say so, to SIMI, albeit this time rechristened as Indian Mujaheedin. Locally assembled bombs are placed in crowded places on cycles, stolen cars, dustbins and then an email is sent to news channels just before or after the first bomb goes. The terrorists have become more tech savvy also. The terror emails are sent through hacked wifis networks to avoid tracing and usually with MPEG files and videos to prove that they are the real perpetrators. This time the email had a chilling message to authorities "Stop us if you can". They also opened up thier email box for eevrybodyto see. These are not some kurta payjama wearing, bearded, madarssa educated, brain washed kids doing a jehad against India. No, these guys are educated, are from middle class families and are tech savvy. The face of terror in India has long changed. It is now home grown, de-centeralised and far too dangerous and ugly. These guys are also more perverse, as they don’t think anything about planting bombs in a children’s park.

Remove Home Minister: As if seeing the footage of Bomb blasts scenes on TV is not enough to make one angry, one has to endure listening to inane and often-repeated statements from Home minister Shivraj Patil. After every bomb blast he mouths the same pattern of words “I am sorry for this. We will spare no effort and will catch the culprits…..blah blah". Do we really need a Home Minister to repeat same excuses every time? Why not hire a school kid who can perhaps do better on TV and atleast think of a different excuse every time!! I don’t think this man has any clues, whatsoever, about what we are dealing with here. He seems more bothered about his attire and specially his white bandgallas and shoes. I remember vividly watching him accompany Sonia Gandhi to a hospital in Ahmedabad to visit blast victims. He seemed more bothered to avoid a rain puddle which could soil his immaculate white shoes while escorting Sonia Gandhi across the road to hospital. This time around also, if you were watching him on TV, you could see him changing his clothes between his appearances on TV. I know that no politics should be played on Bomb blasts, but enough is really enough. This home minister should be removed as he has been an utter failure and even seem insensitive to occasion. Or atleast please someone bar him, from appearing on TV and press with his inane statements after every bomb blast.

Update: 16th Sep,2008 Mr. Patil's regular dress changes appear to have been caught by many people inculding national press and opposition parties. And this man still doesn't get the irony of it all. He thinks that he should not be criticised for his attires as he likes to be neat and clean. WTF!! He is more bothered about his personal cleanliness when bodies of indians lay scattered in roads and parks?? And on top of that he thinks that he is answerable to leadership. No, you are answerable to people of this country, Mr. Patil, not to your Madam.