Friday, November 28, 2008

India is disgraced by Mumbai failure

These are sad days for the country. There is a war on, and we have just lost an important battle, defeated by a ruthless, nameless, enemy who has rampaged through our premier metropolis, killing not just our citizens, but foreign guests who had entrusted their security to us.
There can be no schadenfreude in this. The defeat is as much that of the United Progressive Alliance government, as it is of the National Democratic Alliance opposition, because it is a defeat
for India.
In terms of our history, it ranks with the ones we suffered at the hands of the Chinese in 1962, or when we were made to surrender three terrorists in Kandahar to obtain the release of a plane-load of hostages in the new year of 2000.
When Bombay was subjected to bomb blasts in 1993, there was enormous shock because we were, to be frank, completely unprepared. But you cannot say the same of November 26, 2008. We have been fighting terrorists for the past two decades and tens and thousands of crores of rupees were supposed to have been spent on creating the necessary structures and organisations to combat them. That claim has been proved hollow.
The country’s intelligence agencies had no clue of the impending attack, no matter what they will say through inspired news leaks hereon.
Since the 1993 blasts, the country was supposed to have an enhanced coastal security scheme, but it still appears to be on paper.
After the 2006 blasts, there was talk of enhancing the security of our railway system — the trains, tracks and terminals. But when the threat came, there was nothing between the innocent people gunned down at the Chatrapati Shivaji Terminal and the terrorists.
The responsibility for this state of affairs does not belong to one politician or political party, but to the entire system. Ever since the Kandahar hijack it has been clear that India is under the threat of a determined and coldblooded enemy. Yet no one seems to assume responsibility for a failure.
Politicians and officials are busy with the game of one-up-manship where the only concern is personal gain and electoral victory. The NDA did not change any minister or official for the lapses that allowed a hijacked aircraft to fly away from the airport. The UPA government has resolutely insisted that it has done everything to combat terrorism. Yet, it too, has not made anyone accountable for terrorist incidents in half-a-dozen Indian metros.
It is not as though there are no dedicated people working to defend the country and even sacrifice their lives for it. Every day we hear of one or the other jawan or policeman killed fighting terrorists in Jammu & Kashmir and the North-East. Hemant Karkare, the slain Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad chief showed how there are people who are ready to lead from the front. This dedicated man whose team has several important breakthroughs to its credit was being vilified because he dared to unearth a conspiracy of Hindutva terrorists to explode bombs in Malegaon.
This is perhaps the last chance for the system to redeem itself. It must stop playing politics with something as serious as the terrorist threat. Without justifying any act of terrorism, there is need to address the root causes of the current terrorist upsurge, including the sense of alienation and injustice felt by sections of our population.
There is need to overhaul our national security mechanism and make it relevant to the times. A good beginning was made during the NDA period by a group of ministers in 2003, but since then the implementation of the recommendations has slackened if not come to an end. The leadership of the national security system has left a lot to be desired.
India has had many wake-up calls, but it has chosen to ignore them. It can do so even now at its own peril.
After all, just as there was no one there to defend the hapless hundreds who were gunned down, taken hostage or injured in Mumbai, there will be no one left to defend the country whose political and administrative system fails again, and again and again.
This is an unsigned comment I had written for Mail Today November 28, 2008

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