EVERY crisis brings with it an opportunity. We Indians are, at the best of times, a divisive lot and 26/ 11 afforded our leaders an opportunity to show that at the worst of times, we can unite. But on the day terrorists stormed Mumbai, the political class let us down by proving once again that they were more keen on keeping their vote banks intact than the country itself.
The unprecedented strike at the very root of the Indian state gave Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the BJP’s PM- in- waiting Lal Kishan Advani the perfect opportunity to assure us that when India is under attack, they are ready to sink their differences and go into battle together.
Pictures of the two together in Mumbai on the day after the attack would have sent the strongest of signals to saboteurs worldwide, however belated they may be, not to mess around with us. Instead, petty politics ensured that Manmohan and Advani weren’t ready yet to put on display the spirit that unites India.
Why? Both sides have their own stories to tell. Late on Nov 26, some time after the attacks began, Advani called up Singh and assured him of the BJP’s support to the government in tackling the crisis. To be fair, it was Manmohan who mooted the idea that they both travel together to Mumbai the next day, a suggestion that Advani readily agreed to. Advani had already cancelled the planned birthday celebrations of his wife and had decided to fly out to Mumbai when the PM made the offer of a joint journey.
He rescheduled his agenda and made plans to fly out to Mumbai with the PM, when the next afternoon, barely hours before they were to take off from Delhi, he was informed from the government that since the rescue operations were still on, it would be wise to put off the trip by a day. The Opposition leader politely declined on grounds that he is scheduled to address several meetings in Rajasthan which is due for polls later this week and therefore was going to Mumbai himself.
But by late afternoon, Manmohan Singh changed his mind and decided to fly the same day in the company of — who else — Sonia Gandhi. Upon which Advani who was already on his way to Mumbai is reported to have informed the government of his readiness to meet the PM at any predetermined spot in Mumbai. According to Advani, who was keen on a public show of unity, he was assured he will be informed about the venue and time for a meet- up. There was no further word from the government. But as in any story, there is the other side which tells a different tale and paints Advani as the vil- lain of the botched opportunity.
The government has it that the PM was keen on an allparty show of unity. Amongst those he had invited to join the hurriedly drawn up entourage were Sharad Pawar and Amar Singh. A man is known by the company he keeps and Advani may have had his reasons not to share the stage with Singh.
But it still begs the question: When Advani had offered to catch up with the prime minister in Mumbai, why was his request ignored? Couldn’t Manmohan, who has learnt in these past four and half years to make the impossible possible, have kept the larger picture in mind and persuaded the Opposition leader to be by his side in this gravest of hours? Politics aside, it’s a decision both will grieve over for long.