By the time you read this article, a
year would have passed since ten heavily armed
Pakistanis got off rubber dinghies at the Cuffe
Parade fishing village and, for the next three days,
kept the police at bay while systematically killing
some 175 people in Mumbai. Has the State learnt
anything from this lethal attack? Can it say with
conviction that it has put systems in place to
reduce the risk of such an assault in the future?
The honest answer is depressing. We
have learnt very little. And have even less to show.
To my mind, the only positive outcome of 26/11 is
that New Delhi has got a Home Minister of capability
and consequence after a very long time — an
elemental change from the likes of Shivraj Patil,
who was more interested in his attire than in
internal security, and others of his ilk. From all
accounts, Mr. Chidambaram has put the ministry on
high alert. After decades, I am told, bureaucrats in
the ministry are forced to do their homework before
meeting the minister. And, if unprepared, are caught
with their pants down. Kudos for that.
These changes are necessary. But not sufficient. Let
me state two premises. First, perhaps barring
Israel, I submit to you that no State is as
susceptible to major terrorism as India. Second,
terrorism — whether it be our cross-border
Pakistanis, or North Eastern insurgents, or the
Naxalites in central, south-eastern and eastern
India — has to be fought by consistently high
quality of intelligence backed up by non-negotiable,
top class police action. There is no getting away
from these two simple truths.
So, we need to ask: “Compared to
Israel, or post-9/11 USA, how good is our
intelligence gathering and dissemination?” Here’s my
take. As far as intelligence gathering goes, we
probably average five out of ten. Even this we
disseminate ineffectively. I would reckon, the speed
and effectiveness of intelligence dissemination
between Central and State agencies is about two out
of ten. Have we improved since 26/11? Possibly. But
our base is so low, and the information holes are so
wide, that we need to improve much, much faster.
Question number two: “How effective are our
police?”. Here, it is best to let Mr. Chidambaram
speak. While inaugurating the Chief Ministers’
Conference on Internal Security in New Delhi on 17
August 2009, this is what he had to say:
“The police system is completely outdated and our
police forces are ill-trained, ill-equipped and
ill-paid. Adding to these woes are the short-sighted
policies followed by governments with the objectives
of control and patronage. Let us take the average
constable. He is perhaps the most used, misused and
abused person ever to wear a uniform. He works, on
an average, 12–14 hours a day; generally seven days
a week, often throughout the year. Since he is drawn
from the common stock of people, his behaviour and
attitude reflect that stock: only a feeble attempt
is made to improve his behaviour or change his
attitude... He is perhaps the most reviled public
servant in India. From a violator of traffic laws to
a rich man whose family member has run over several
hapless persons sleeping on the pavement, everyone
assumes that the average policeman can be cajoled,
bribed, bought over, threatened or bullied into
submission. The people’s estimate of the average
policeman is low; the self-esteem of the average
policeman is even lower. It is this police that is
our frontline force to provide internal security;
and it is this police force that we have to work
Has the quality of the police force improved in the
last one year? Even in Mumbai, which has witnessed
horrible terrorism at least thrice in recent times?
If there has been, it is certainly invisible. The
positive is that from July 2009, 250 National
Security Guard (NSG) commandos are permanently
located in Mumbai. But what about the front-line —
the good old Mumbai police? They are still
over-weight; carry ancient 303 rifles; haven’t had
shooting practice for a long time; and most rely on
rattan canes as the prime anti-terrorist device. I
have neither noticed any great changes in the police
force; nor heard of the state government’s drive to
give its cops more power to defeat terror.
R. R. Patil is back as Maharashtra’s Home Minister.
Remember, during 26/11, he was the guy who said,
“Itney badey shahar mein ek-adh hadsa ho jata hai.
Is liye total intelligence failure hua aisa nahi
hain” and had to resign. He’s back, a year later.
The cops are no better off. The soft-underbelly is
getting re-exposed. I fear another attack... in
Mumbai, or Delhi, or Bangalore or Hyderabad.
Yes, one day we will overcome terrorism, because
democracies invariably do. But no. We haven’t learnt
much at all. Not yet anyway.
Published: Business World, December 2009