Monday, December 8, 2008


The recent terrorist attacks on the CST railway station, Taj Hotel, Oberoi-Trident hotel, and Nariman House a week ago have visibly upset the metropolitan population of India; they are “angry and hurt as never before”, as the headline of The Hindu of December 6, 2008 puts it, reporting the Prime Minister’s words. In the meantime, the Union home minister, the Maharashtra chief minister and the deputy chief minister, all resigned on “moral” grounds. Such moral upsurge in our leaders was awe-inspiring. But the cynics felt all this was mere whimper. If there was any noise, it was in the Minister of external affairs’ and the Congress President’s tough talk against the hostile neighbour from where, it was strongly believed, had come those terrible people who created havoc in Mumbai.

Anyway, all the talk about steps to be taken to prevent such occurrences increase the safety that we heard on television during those terrible hours could hardly leave an ordinary old Indian like me reassured. Thanks to the Internet, one has access these days to information disseminated elsewhere. According to a report in The New York Times of December 2, 2008, US had warned India in mid-October about the possibility of terror attacks on tourist places in Mumbai which attract foreigners. Apparently it was too general for our security agencies at some high level to act on, although the likes of me fail to see how. In any case, the local Mumbai police top brass seemed to have alerted the five star hotels, who do not seem to have taken all this seriously either. After all, isn’t it only trains and crowded markets that interest the terrorists, they might have thought. In course of the sixty plus hour non-stop electronic media coverage we got to know that in addition to the all-too familiar intelligence failure, there were such complications as the coastline being unguarded, the police hopelessly under-equipped, the bulletproof jackets given to them of very poor quality, the terrorists more well informed than the police in every relevant way, NSG personnel arriving too late, and they being poorly informed about the layout of the buildings under seize, and much else. Considering their severe limitations, what the police and the NSG did was simply remarkable.

After a terrorist attack there is almost a routine demand for tough laws to deal with terrorists. But this time, the demand was for hot pursuit, since the terrorists were believed to be Pakistanis. But what laws can protect the citizens if the coastline is unguarded or the police is ill trained and under-equipped? Is hot pursuit really a solution when new training camps can be set up elsewhere? International diplomatic pressure can help, but it has its limitations. For ordinary citizens, naive about the diplomatic discourse, the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, came and assured her government’s support for India, and on the following day, went to Pakistan, and reportedly felt pleased with the anti-terrorist steps that the Pakistani government assured her of taking.

India has known terrorist attacks for more than fifteen years now. But this has not lead to improvement in the functioning of the intelligence network to the required level. This has not lead to a better-trained police force to deal with this particular menace. This has not lead to shunning corruption at least in buying arms and ammunitions for our police. What a shame that our policemen went to fight terrorists not knowing that their bulletproof jackets were fake. During the 60 odd hour media engagement with terrorists, one hardly noted any strong demand that corruption in buying ammunition be probed and the guilty be exposed. No one asked why the coastline was left unguarded.

We are intensely aware that India is a soft state. We know that the problem is complicated manifold because of dishonesty, corruption, inefficiency, and lackadaisical approach to things. These have become acceptable part of our public life. Our country, we are afraid, will remain an unsafe place unless there is significant improvement in this area.

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