The title of this article could well have been “We
are like that only”. I’ve been to Bombay twice since
the massacres of 26-27 November, and am convinced
that nothing has changed in terms of the quality of
security offered by our police; of the civic
responsibilities and security awareness of our
citizens; and of how our bureaucrats and politicians
respond to repeated terrorism.
Example 1. A police check-post opposite Savitri
Cinema, New Delhi. Nobody knows why this
constriction which masquerades as a police
check-post has been there for the last six years.
But everyone who snakes past it will vouch that it
is a total waste of resources. At most, it is manned
by two cops — both fat, out of shape, one with a
lathi and another with a pistol which I bet he
hasn’t fired for years on end. Typically, they are
chatting with each other or some local. It isn’t a
bad job for the two worthies, for they catch
motorcyclists and scooterists without helmets or
expired licenses, and make a tidy pile in bribes.
Any terrorist would pop them in a trice.
Example 2. Check-posts at Delhi’s domestic airport.
Post-26/11, the cops have set up sand-bagged
barricades. Some even carry automatic rifles. But
every car is waved on. Usually, the back up
contingent which is supposed to cover the cops who
are inspecting the passengers and drivers are
talking among themselves. One grenade. A few bursts
of gunfire, and they would be history.
Example 3. The CISF guy who checks your tickets
before you enter the terminal is programmed only to
see the ticket and glance at a photo-ID that rarely
resembles the passenger. You can enter with an open
ticket, and they won’t be any wiser. On 4 December,
I entered Delhi airport’s Terminal 1B, checked it,
came out with my boarding pass and carry-bag, went
in again, came out once more, and then finally went
in. I said that I had left my mobile in the car and
was waiting for my driver to return with it. That
was enough for two entries and exits with my
Example 4. Delhi and Bombay airports, X-ray check.
The quality of the CISF men vary wildly across
shifts. Occasionally diligent. Typically
uninterested. Always talking among themselves.
Contrast it with the checks that you have to go
through in the US and UK airports, and you will
realise the alarming aspects of sub-continental
Example 5. A Home Guard was physically checking my
strolly at the departure gate of Bombay airport.
Totally cursory job. When I ask him to also check
the outer flaps, his answer, “Zaroorat nahi”. My
security depends upon his diligence. And he says,
Example 6. A VVIP works out at the gym where I am a
member. Two, sometimes three, security guys
accompany him. They stand at the entrance, back to
the world, without any protective gear under their
giveaway safari suits, their hands clasped in the
front of their groins. Anyone can shoot them from
the back and take out the VVIP at the treadmill.
When I told them this, they grinned.
Example 7. Ratan Tata spoke of the need for disaster
recovery. Here’s what happened at the Taj when the
hostages at the Chambers were rescued in the
morning. As they got into a BEST bus, there was a
burst of sniper fire. But the bus couldn’t move. You
know why? Because its path was blocked by OB vans of
various television channels. This is from a rescued
friend who was in the bus.
Example 8. Also disaster recovery. On the afternoon
of 5 December, an ambulance with its sirens blaring
could not get the right of way between Siddhi
Vinayak temple and Shivaji Park in Bombay. That’s
how our civic minded citizens behave: my way is the
right of way; you wait, even if you are dying in the
Example 9. It took over 48 hours to select a chief
minister for Maharashtra. Nobody who mattered in the
selection process cared about speed and
decisiveness. Sharad Pawar had to be assuaged; a
Maratha was needed; the High Command had to approve,
and she wasn’t available; every excuse for dawdling
with nary a thought for getting the administration
going. Then, the disgraceful spectacle of Narayan
Rane saying that he can bring down the government —
just to display his petty political power and his
ego, the hell with what others thought.
We can say what we like on television. Take out
processions for weeks on end. Wear black bands.
Create a temporary excess demand for candles. But we
won’t change. Because nobody really cares. Not us,
the citizens. Not them, the cops, the babus and the
netas. That’s what makes us a soft, effete state.
And the terrorists know it.
Published: Business Standard, December 2008