Who claims responsibility for the Headline?
The Times of India sub-editor who let today’s headline go through should lose his or her job. “Terrorists, not Maoists”, it declared. This before the CPI(Maoist) had claimed responsibility for the derailment of the Gyaneshwari Express. Indeed before there was any clarity regarding how the train was derailed. At least the Hindustan Times, not usually known for its temperance, made some attempt to adhere to journalistic protocol to say “Naxals Blamed”, and not “Naxals did it”. Though it then goes on to say “All fingers point at Maoists, their spokesman denied hand in Bengal Mishap”. Meanwhile the West Bengal police, in other reports, claim that the PCPA have taken responsibility for the derailment, when Chatradhar Mahato has explicitly said the PCPA is not involved. Today the CPIM(Maoist) has also denied any involvement. The Maoists, historically, have not exactly been shy of claiming responsibility for actions they have carried out. Even when, such as with the recently blown up bus in Dantewada, they are likely to be at the receiving end of severe censure.
A hundred and thirty one people have died. It is a terrible terrible tragedy. At this moment, we need some articulative silence from the newspapers, not war-mongering hysteria assigning blame and asking for the army. There are wildly conflicting reports in the press. No one is sure if there was an explosion or not, or of the exact sequence of events. And this is not surprising considering the incident occured little over 24 hours ago. But these days the press essays the roles of detective, forensics expert and judge all rolled into one. How did this happen? Who is responsible? Why were the side clips missing? Where did the fishplates go?
How is it possible to answer these questions in less than a day from the incident, while relief and rescue efforts are still on? But this does not halt the news-express.
In her column in the Hindustan Times today Barkha Dutt expresses worries about what she calls “political reticence” and “prevarication” at apportioning blame on the part of the Home Minister. Before all the facts have been established, before any investigation regarding what happened has commenced, before anyone is even sure of the sequence of events that lead to the tragedy, in the face of explicit denials by the two parties who have been blamed for the incident, is reticence not preferable to sabre-rattling confidence? Maybe, Barkha, Mr Chidambaram (who no one has accused of coyness when it comes to fighting “naxal terror”) is reticent about assigning blame because, at this moment, blame cannot be apportioned with any certainity? Maybe Mr. Chidambaram is cognisant of the fact that since 1990 there have been at least 46 major train accidents in the country leaving over 3,000 people dead and countless more injured. Clearly rail safety norms, or the lack thereof, have the jump on the Maoists when it comes to “mass murder”. Maybe some very severe and searching questions need to be asked about rail safety protocols and why India has one of the worst rail safety records in the world.
Is it possible that this terrible tragedy, despite their denials, might finally be the work of Maoists? Yes, it might. Is it possible that it might point to the involvement of, as the Maoists claim, “other parties’? Yes, it might. And yet, given the railways poor safety record, is it possible that this is not sabotage, but an accident caused by a host of other factors? Yes, it might. Do we know anything for sure right now? No we do not. Till we do, it would be best for the media and its oracles such as the likes of Ms. Dutt to excercise some caution in their utterances. Traditionally it is customary to observe two minutes silence out of respect for the dead. Perhaps the news media might grant us a small window of respite from its ceaseless production of white noise and let us mourn that which is beyond doubt. The death of 131 people – mangled bodies and shattered limbs and twisted steel and broken glass.