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Nothing Changes, Does It?

Omkar Goswami

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 boarding pass.

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 sloppiness.

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, “Zaroorat nahi”!

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 ambulance.

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


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