UK Prime Minister Theresa May is facing yet another test (and no, it doesn’t involve her shoes) after the London terror attack in which three people were killed by a lone wolf called Khalid Masood. Ms May’s report card hasn’t displayed high grades so far, and her response to the five minutes of undiluted horror that shook the world once again, has been described as “tepid” by critics. “It is wrong to describe this as ‘Islamic terrorism’, it is Islamist terrorism, it is a perversion of a great faith,” she carefully explained to a shell-shocked nation. Oooof! British semantics! Since the ISIS has claimed responsibility, and described Masood as a “soldier of the Islamic State”, isn’t it a bit corny to get into that tricky word-game space? Does it matter what the politically correct term is, when casualties included people of so many mixed nationalities — innocents, who were strolling on the world’s most famous bridge (Westminster), taking in the sights, enjoying the crisp spring weather and a bit of welcome sunshine after a long and harsh winter. Meanwhile, the police had moved fast to ensure the safety of MPs still inside the historic Parliament building and bundled off Ms May to an undisclosed destination. Indignant viewers were quick to comment on the insensitivity of those MPs who wanted assurances they would have sufficient security when they exited Parliament... and displayed no concern for unprotected bystanders who had been attacked by a cold-blooded killer.
Then came the social media chatter, where several Londoners boasted about how they kept calm and drank tea through those dreadful hours of uncertainty and fear. London bounced back swiftly and it was business as usual, despite the cordoned-off tourist areas around Piccadilly. The world was introduced to a new monster: the Lone Wolf. This is the latest reality show on screens across the world. For us in Mumbai, there is just no question of our frantic lives hitting the pause button, terror attack or no terror attack. We have zero option but to carry on — with or without chai. The much-lauded “Spirit of Mumbai” has become such an over-used cliché, even our over-dramatic television anchors have stopped using it. Today, we hurtle on stoically, living for the moment, and not bothering about semantics. Now that we have been introduced to the lethal Lone Wolf strategy, which is being unleashed across continents, what possible preparedness can one discuss? One thing the London attack did establish emphatically is the rapid response of security agencies to the crisis. Credit must be given to the efficient handling of a totally unexpected form of terrorism we may be seeing a lot more of henceforth. There could be a Lone Wolf or even a hungry pack of wolves in the neighbourhood right now. Is Mumbai equipped to deal with such an eventuality? I fear not. Despite a crack police force, which was once rated as one of the best in the world, along with Scotland Yard, today that same force is demoralised and considerably less proactive due to the lack of required political support. While a lot of upgradation is very much on and the initiatives are visible, (more patrol cars and motorbikes, better uniforms, superior weapons), what is required is an ongoing, aggressive training which better equips the men and women responsible for the safety of this humongous megapolis.
Unfortunately, instead of dynamic, result-driven leaders we have MPs whose idea of herogiri is to pull off their chappals and thrash those who “insult” them. As it happened on an Air India flight from Pune to Delhi, when Ravindra Gaikwad, the MP from Osmanbad district, (Maharashtra), assaulted Sukumar Raman, an airline employee, because he was not given a business class seat on a flight that only provides economy class seats! When the MP, who is referred to by “Ravi Sir” by acolytes, was reminded he could face a murder charge for viciously attacking the AI employee, the MP replied cockily, “Let it be... I have many cases against me.” Which he indeed does. With rowdyism and toadyism rampant in our Parliament and Legislative Assemblies, our fear factor comes from men like Mr Gaikwad — though it is not clear, whether he can be described as a lone wolf, or the leader of the pack. This is another sort of terrorism. A terrorist armed with a large knife (Masood) killed and injured innocents. “Ravi Sir’s” chappal is also a weapon he used with enough force to break Mr Raman’s spectacles. The message remains identical: violence will be used against anybody who comes in the way. Unless our politicians condemn people like Mr Gaikwad and throw them out of the party, nothing will change. For a minister to say weakly, “Such incidents will not be encouraged,” is to reduce and trivialise the seriousness of the offence. We want to know how Mr Gaikwad’s atrocious behaviour will be actively “discouraged”. In this topsy-turvy, chaotic social order, what is needed is moral leadership, where doing the right thing is seen as being the only thing — no strings attached. Whether it is Masood or Mr Gaikwad, the victims are defenceless, unarmed innocents. Masood, described as a “peripheral” by security agencies, was shot dead. But Mr Gaikwad, the braggart, is running around, unashamed and brazen. In all such cases, it is the murder of decency that shocks the world.