The clamour grows louder and louder. Something has to be done. Everyone has their action plan ready. Except the people who know what has to be done, and can do it, keep their silence. In this country of more opinions than people I am not sure if that is such a bad thing. For now the actions have been limited to sacking an inept minister and cancelling of an unlikely cricket tour to Pakistan.

The only thing to my mind that can be done and should have been done already, is the tightening of the country’s defences. It may not sound as thrilling as hot pursuit or an aerial assault but is probably the most important thing if the government wants to prevent this from happening again. But justice needs to be seen to be done. Unfortunately, only one terrorist was caught alive so hanging him only won’t do the trick. So what can the government do apart from strengthening its defences ?

Call off peace talks with Pakistan.That is the easiest thing to do and will probably cause the most damage. Zardari needs India as much as India needs him. If he can’t find support from India, he’ll go looking towards China and Saudi Arabia.

Have a skirmish with Pakistan. What will that achieve ? Even more capital and business flies out of India, the economy goes back 10 years, few thousand people die, millions become unemployed and if we are lucky we get some territory. The people who trained and sent these terrorists would still be around.

Diplomacy to get Pakistan to hand over terrorists (Dawood and ilk ) to India. That will need pressure from countries other than India on Pakistan. These other countries have their handful with the two wars and the economic crisis. Will the democratically elected government want to be seen handing over their people to India. The mere fact that Zardari promised to send the spy chief for a meeting caused a controversy , what will handing over people to India do.

So in all probability we will have some sabre rattling like in the aftermath of Parliament attacks and then everyone goes back to business. And then a US politician will write in his book 5 years from now on how he managed to bring two nuclear armed neighbours back from the brink. Just another example of how he managed to save the world. But I digress.

The joker in the usual pack of cards is P Chidambaram. The new home minister. The only person in the cabinet that Mumbai trusts ! His 1997 budget was the so called ‘dream budget’. Everyone thought they got something but no one really got anything. Having said that I am quite a fan of his and I am very happy that he has continued to be in politics. Can he produce a home ministry version of the 1997 budget. Elections are next year and God knows the country and his party can do with a trick or two.

Can he be our dark knight ?

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My most memorable experiences are the ones that I have had sitting across the table and talking. This was before there was email, chat and even telephones. Even now some of my best times are had talking face to face. On the converse some of the worst times that I have had have also been face to face. So what I am trying to say is that for me, talking face to face to is the most compelling form of communication. This conversation that I often have with myself on my blog, I try to keep it on the same lines of a face to face one. In it, I feel all my senses are engaged and the conversation is more wholesome and I never know where it will go.  I usually talk on the fly and I don’t have much time to evaluate the pros and cons before making a statement. I just say it as I feel it. What I like even better is randon conversations with strangers.  People I have never met before and will never meet again. In this category fall transport (airplane, metro , bus) conversations, conversations in the pub among others.

And so, I had an interesting conversation with a gentleman on the bus yesterday. It was not really a conversation but more of a monologue with me trying to get a word in when I could. In the short period of 30 minutes that we talked I got to know more about him than I ever wanted to know ! I know how many houses and children he has, what is his income and what are his daugher’s marriage prospects. But this was not the interesting part of the conversation.He is from Pakistan and he held forth on his views on the subcontinent, on the state of Pakistan and on US and Jews. What he said to me is not something unique that I have not heard before. But what is bothering me increasingly so is the frequency of it and how people who should know better continue to voice these opinions as if by saying it enough times, it will somehow become the truth.

So then what was he saying ? He first said that 9/11 is a Jew- US conspiracy against Islam ,against their own people. I tried to tell him that is a very convenient way of putting things because then it means you don’t have to set your own house in order. He then said how the US is after the only nuclear armed muslim nation in the world. My response was that why are you so worried about the nuclear weapon when millons of your people are under the poverty line and your military expediture (per GDP) has been actually increasing over the past couple of years. That led to an argument about I don’t know my numbers and that India has many more poor people etc. Then he started to criticise Musharraf and then Zardari and said he is a nobody and some settler.I wanted to say to him that you are not happy with the outsiders, not happy with your inside politicians, and so where is the solution.

I didn’t say that to him because by that time he had moved on and had started to muse about the old bazaars of Delhi and that was not a conversation I was going to break up with politics ! We talked about urdu, dry fruits, lata mangeshkar and noor jehan and dosas. It was then time for me to get off. Walking back home the thought in my head was that inspite of our so many differences we also have so much in common. And while we rightly talk about the differences, why we don’t talk about the common. Most sensible conversations I know begin with the commons and then they tackle the differences. The conversations in the subcontinent start and end with the differences.

Atleast me and the gentleman on the bus ended with commons and thats a start.

Last night we went for a opera performance. It wasn’t actually a opera, but an opera gala night where various pieces from different operas were presented. It was almost like the best from various different operas. It was great. The orchestra was excellent, as were the soprano and the choir. The tenor made up in the end after a shaky start. I loved the music and the drama of it all. It was nice to see the hall almost full and people all well dressed for the evening. Although I did think that a majority of the audience were much older than me.

As i was listening to the opera, my thoughts were somehow directed towards Benazir and her recent assasination. I had all sorts of thoughts in my head, no doubt all motivated by the music and the singing. My first thought was on the ghastly assasination and how no one deserves to be eliminated like this. I thought that the way Saddam Hussain was disposed off was bad but this is worse.  I also for the first time in her life felt a tinge of respect for her, for standing up to her murderers. My other thoughts about her about why did she go back to Pakistan in the first place and why is she being idolised by Western countries.  These 2 thoughts are interconnected.

The western media is full of eulogies for Benazir. Some call her a fearless crusuader for democracy, other call her as the saviour for Pakistan and yet others call her as devoting her life for her country. I am not sure how can anyone attribute all this to her. There is little understanding of the subcontinent in the western media and any little knoweldge than does exists is dangerously outdated. I say dangerous because decisions are made using this outdated information and are then imposed on countries to bear with the consequences. I am not sure what Benazir has done that affirms her democratic credentials.  She was after power like anyone else. There are only two ways to get to power in Pakistan, either through the army or by spinning off a family political party and by appointing yourself the leader for life, removing all obstacles within and outside the party. Benazir because of her father had the latter line chosen for her. To be fair to her, she didnt make these rules but was quite happy playing by them. She came back to Pakistan not to promote democracy in the country, but to become Prime minister of the country. If elections was the best way to do it then so be it.

The western powers instead of supporting the process and letting everyone  run for power, decide to support one person, cut a deal with the president cum chief of army and plant her at the helm of affairs. She in turn foolishly agreed to follow whatever the West asked her to as long as she gets to be the Prime Minister. For all her public statements I didn’t hear anything from her on any development issues. I don’t remember anything of note that she did when she was in power twice. So why did the west chose her ? Because she is Western educated, a so called liberal, and can tell the West what they like to hear and yes also the head of one of the two biggest parties in Pakistan.  But to me she represented the problem that is standing in the way of Pakistan’s development. She belonged to one of the big landowning families which still control most of the resources in Pakistan.

Its disturbing how seemingly different incidents in different places seem to mirror each other. Whats even more disturbing is that these incidents are spread over a long period of time. Which tells me that we are not learning from history. So what’s new ?