Every Indian heart bleeds whenever terror strikes any part of the country. Our agony over the latest tragedy in Mumbai is beyond words. All of us pray that this civilised city should not have to mourn again. Mumbai has a special place in my heart – although I do not hail from there or have lived there long enough to call myself a Mumbaikar - and I am the happiest there whenever I drive past Marine Drive, Haji Ali or the Siddhivinayak temple.
There is something utterly cosmopolitan and magical about the place that attracts even a total stranger. It never repels anyone. I cannot, therefore, comprehend why such an enlightened city should be subjected to repeated assaults on its sanity and morale.
I was touched last night when I saw on TV the daughter of Vijay Salaskar, a brave Mumbai policeman who fell to the 26/11 assassins, present a picture of dignity and fortitude. She said a few words on how the city could plan for being spared of this ordeal in future. However simplistic she may have sounded, I felt her credibility was far higher than the ruling hierarchy that rushes to scenes of tragedy and mouths clichés that only serve to infuriate the victim families and those close to them.
There is a good old rule that VIPs should not crowd a place of disaster and hamper relief operations. That was grossly flouted during the hours that followed the tragedy. It looked as if everybody wanted to be seen there and quizzed by the crafty and articulate Barkha Dutt, who revels in tragedies and celebrations alike.
Most of our VIPs in power are undoubtedly well intentioned, and their feelings for the victims need not be seen as phony. The point, however, is that their inadequacy to govern is becoming more and more glaring, and less and less pardonable.
This is definitely not the time for finger-pointing. By the same token it is not again the time for excuses as to why the terrorist could not be stopped. Sentiment will somehow have to yield place to action if only to smoothen the ruffled feelings of Mumbaikars, whose helplessness now borders on anger and disgust.
Their anger at being labelled “resilient” is boiling over, because it somewhat sounds hollow and condescending.
So what do we really need to do to prevent the next terror attack? Three things, principally. We need a strong Pota (Prevention of Terrorism Act)-like law. It was effective in the past, it can be effective again. We also need an elite intelligence agency whose only focus is to ferret out potential terrorists from all communities. My guess is there are not more than 1,000 of the really dangerous ones who are willing to go to any length to kill and maim. It should not be difficult to defang them with the help of solid intelligence. And third, we should invest a lot of monitoring public spaces by a huge investment in closed-circuit TVs. Each of these points is expanded below.
The Centre has no doubt poured in a lot of money into the Mumbai Police to beef up its counter-terrorist preparedness. Following this, I also subscribed to a widespread feeling of euphoria and smugness. This has proved wrong. More men and equipment have not helped.
The Union home minister has tremendous faith in modern management principles, and is therefore extremely practical and clinical in whatever he does. He will himself admit that what he has put on the field has not frustrated the terrorist. Chidambaram should be furious. He, however, masked it with great adroitness during his prompt visit to the disaster area.
But the return of terrorism should have caused him great annoyance. Let us hope that he tries something new. What could that be?
The crux of the matter is that a determined and well-trained terrorist always has the huge surprise element that facilitates his diabolic intentions. We just cannot deny this to him. We have, therefore, to get him before he strikes. This highlights the need to identify every trouble monger in the city and lock him up for life before he indulges in his misadventure.
Severity towards 2G scam suspects now counting the bars in Tihar was most welcome. It has the seal of approval of a majority in the country. But that is only less important than detaining all terror suspects. All of us were hypercritical of President Bush when he set up his infamous Guantanamo Bay camp. Definitely Bush was instrumental in lodging far too many at, by all accounts, a cruel and barbaric camp.
Despite his solemn promise, Obama has not chosen to shut it. And there has been no terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11, although there have been a few amateurish attempts. Does this teach a lesson to us? Assuming that only 50% of those in the Guantanamo camp are terrorists, is not copying what the US administration has done worth following here?
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I know that many human rights activists will be shocked at this suggestion. It looks as if that is the only way to go about the task of denying the hard-boiled fundamentalist the chance to blow himself up to cause havoc. Our aim should be one of an intense and efficient scrutiny of the less than 1,000-and-odd numbers who clearly show a predilection for perpetrating terror.
I do not believe that rabid elements who want to disturb the peace are more than that number at any point of time. They may belong to more than one religion. If we are not clever enough to ferret out these 1,000 men, we do not deserve to be in the business of fighting terror.
Chidambaram’s much publicised multi-disciplinary monitoring cell is a good idea on paper. It has, however, failed to foil the 13/7 tragedy. We need to collect quality information on those who have sold themselves to terrorism and hound them. Nothing else is going to work.
However much it was abused, Pota was an essential weapon that strengthened the government’s hands. Any political party which opposes a similar legislation now does not deserve to rule this country. The ordinary rules of evidence are not going to help the cause. The US decision to call the Guantanamo detenus as ‘enemy combatants’ may have been harsh. But it seems to have helped.
One inescapable conclusion from the repeated attacks on Mumbai and elsewhere is that the Indian police as constituted at present is hardly equipped for the job. It is a force for normal times and for performing routine chores. And we are not living in normal times.
The Intelligence Bureau’s bandwidth is too modest for a country of India’s size. Depending on such an outfit for the whole country is ridiculous. The intelligence wing of the state police forces are more a disgrace than an asset. Its guns are trained only against the foes of the Chief Minister inside his own party and outside. Thus our intelligence machinery in the states is a joke.
The IB under the Union home ministry can perform better with a wider spread. There is therefore a good case for a national intelligence force which would draw from the states as well as the IB and would concentrate on identifying terrorists as well as their sympathisers. Anything else will not work.
The terrorist focus is on crowded public places. He invariably strikes at twilight time. We know that a large measure of protection is given by CCTV cameras in crowded places. Unlike many countries abroad, the concept has somehow not gained ground in India. When offices in the country have benefited from such a facility, I do not know why there is a reluctance to install a substantial number of them at other places.
London is one city that has greatly benefited from the CCTVs installed on all important roads. A healthy investment in this area in all major cities should inject enough deterrence in the system that would either help prevent attacks or facilitate investigation after an occurrence. The slight loss of privacy is something of a modern phenomenon that we need to live with.
Every visit to the US amazes me on how the Department of Homeland Security has systematised security in public places. Its secretary and the Union home minister met recently in New Delhi. The talks focused on mutual support. I wish we had learnt more than what the US has in what should be a relentless fight against terror.
Fortunately, we no longer have any hang-ups about collaborating with the US. This is one reason why we should be optimistic about the future. Securing the nation is a serious and costly business. Unbridled expansion of an ill-equipped and untrained state police should give way to an elitist national organisation that spends all its time solely on identifying the terrorists and having them locked up.
This is the only way we can protect Mumbai and other major cities in the country.
Updated Date: Jul 15, 2011 18:31:31 IST