Anna, home-grown terror, Sonia’s health and other stories

BY SAEED NAQVI

Given the media’s preferences, Anna Hazare will, in the foreseeable future, obscure other stories which may be equally important.

An edit page cartoon in the Hindu shows Prime Minister Manmohan Singh leaning hard against a cupboard, trying to hold back skeletons. He is pointing at the opposition: “there are skeletons in your cupboard!”

This at a time when Anna Hazare’s Jan Lokpal issue was threatening to overshadow the monsoon session of Parliament.

The skeletons the Prime Minister is trying to hide are, presumably, corruption cases on a magnitude which have already sent Union ministers and others in that league to jail. But what skeletons is Manmohan Singh pointing out in the opposition cupboard?

For the first time ever, Home Minister P. Chidambaram, admitted in parliament that there “were indications of involvement of Indian module in the July 13, Mumbai blasts that killed 26 people.” Chidambaram continued: “we cannot live in denial; we cannot close our eyes to facts. There are home grown modules.”

What is it that we have been living in denial of? Only when the media takes its eyes off the Anna movement can this frightening story be brought into focus. Even a cursory investigation suggests that the Indian Mujahideen generally blamed for acts of terror since 2008 are actually the “home grown modules” Chidambaram is talking about. At some appropriate moment, for wider credibility, Anna may wish to take this one up too.

According to one of the country’s leading experts on terrorism, Wilson John of the Observer Research Foundation, atleast a dozen major terror attacks since the Uttar Pradesh serial blasts of November 2007, have been linked to Indian Mujahideen who, it turns out, may be these “home grown modules” linked to right wing terror.

Wilson John is candid: “If a fraction of what has appeared in the media about Indian Mujahideen is anywhere near the truth, then we are in for serious trouble – we have a terrorist group capable of networking across this vast country, one which can recruit, train and carry out attacks at will as if intelligence agencies and police forces and a host of federal agencies are either incompetent or complicit.”

The other story that must await its turn to be brought into focus is Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s health and the effect it will have on the Congress succession. Of course the Gandhi family’s privacy has to be respected but the family would be well advised to end speculation. The Congress party could issue regular health bulletins if she is seriously unwell or to make one urgent statement on her health if she is recovering. The calmness with which Rahul Gandhi proceeded to Pune in aftermath of the police firing showed a certain unflappability, that Mrs. Gandhi’s health did not seem to weigh on him.

A spoiler for Anna and his cohorts could well be the fourth cricket test between India and England at the Oval, particularly if, by some miracle, India begins to look good. Principal anchors will then have to wait for custom with their Anna packages while the viewers will have defected to Star Cricket in droves. Rains could also ruin the Anna’s TV potential.

By accident or design, team Anna has hit the political jackpot. He has truck exactly the chord with the people, urban middle class particularly (exactly the one most taken in by the shining India illusion) because he provides them relief from a sense of helplessness in the face of rising prices which in popular perception are jumbled up with rampaging corruption.

The insensitive even cockey handling of Anna by the Congress leadership absolutely justifies the Mail Today banner headline, across two pages: “Cong a Rudderless Ship Minus Sonia”.

When Sonia Gandhi was in control she generally turned to the experience and sagacity of Pranab Mukherjee for all firefighting operations. But just when all political skill was required to handle Anna, the Finance Minister was nowhere to be seen. Nor was the quartet authorized to look after party affairs in her absence – A. K. Antony, Ahmad Patel, Janardan Dwivedi, Rahul Gandhi. A pity the Prime Minister’s apparent absence from issues of political salience is not even noticed these days – except by the opposition to score debating points.

How the Anna phenomena plays itself out is not clear. Should he run out of steam, middle class disappointment will be enormous with unpredictable consequences. The Congress, with luck, must have its leader back soon or, in the alternative, find some way to keep together the flock which has grown accustomed to the apotheosis of a family. A simple way is to hold party elections, never attempted after the Tirupati session of the Congress in 1993.

(Saeed Naqvi is senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)

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