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Between the line

Mumbai is yesterday
July 20 , 2011


I HAVE never lived in Mumbai. My visits too have been few and far between and never beyond two to three days. Therefore, it is difficult for me to visualize how people live, fearing one blast or the other in offing. What impresses me, however, is the manner in which the 20 million people from different parts of the country have fused into one community despite the terrorists and the threats of Shiv Sena to the non-Marathi speaking population.

The city has had 16 attacks in the last 18 years. People have come to live with insecurity they face. They criticize the governments at the centre and in the state for not protecting them against recurring incidents of bomb blasts. Still they live undeterred and this is what the outsiders describe as “the spirit of Mumbai.”

I was in Karachi a few weeks ago and found how people have come to terms with the conditions obtaining there, one blast practically every day, apart from ethnic riots. I asked them how and their reply was: Tell us the alternative. There was a feeling of helplessness, something like Mumbai’s.

I also had the traumatic experience of facing riots and death at the time of partition. When I travelled from my hometown Sialkot City to the Attari-Wagah border in India, I feared I might be killed when people before my eyes were slaughtering one another. It looked impossible how we would restart our life without any help from the government. But we did it. The Punjabis in East Punjab started from the scratch and were up on their feet before long. Was it our sense of resistance or the spirit of determination?

I find the people living in Mumbai cast in the same mould. They get up, fall but are on their feet again. They have done it many a time before and would do it again, if challenged. In fact, there is no option except to fight against those forces which want them to fall and stay there. I have not forgotten a poignant remark made by a woman living in Colaba: “Whenever my husband goes to office in the morning, I pray he should come back safe in the evening.” Things have not reached the same stage in Delhi where I live. But it can happen any time. As a senior citizen, I have come to be a fatalist.

The most unpalatable thing happening in India is the politicizing of riots. Both the Congress and the BJP, the two main political parties, begin blaming each other. Within 24 hours of the blasts at Mumbai, BJP leader L.K. Advani reached Mumbai and advised New Delhi not to have talks with Pakistan. None in the media or elsewhere had even remotely hinted at the involvement of Pakistan. But should he politicize the issue for electoral purpose? Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh soon jumped into fray and raised the possible involvement of the RSS. In contrast, Home Minister P Chidambaram said that his government was not yet sure who was responsible for the blasts. He told the public that no group was out of their radar.
The result of politicizing the riots is that the government does not have to explain why it kept the police ill-equipped and ill-trained even after the Mumbai attacks three years ago. Maharashtra Home Minister Patel who was removed because of failure then is back. In this way, the government is sending a wrong signal.

I regret why the government makes the same mistakes and gives the same assurances on zero tolerance against terrorists. I thought the attack on Mumbai in 2008 was a big warning. I have heard even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh saying that they would not allow it to happen again. Yet the basic thing like the intelligence failed again. For Chidambaram to admit that there was no input either from internal or external intelligence agencies is a slur on the government. Both the Centre and Mumbai have an elaborate intelligence networks. It is their job to be nosing and probing all the time.

We must find out from America how it has not allowed a single incident take place after 9/11. That country also has a large ethnic population and it is bigger in size than India. President Bush introduced some laws like the Patriotic Act which treated every American as a criminal before he or she could prove it otherwise.

We should not make such a mistake. There is no dearth of law in our government’s armoury. Another law will not help. What is needed is to shake up the law and order machinery so that it operates properly and quickly. Why is the country ruled by the police act as old as 1861, formulated by the British which wanted to keep the public and police apart. America and European countries have devised ways for the public participation in the measures taken by the police to maintain law and order.

The National Investigation Agency was set up with a fanfare in 2009 to assuage public anger over a similar series of failure leading up to 26/11. They were entrusted with cases but the result so far is dismal. The latest annual report of the Union Home Ministry says that large investments were made “in new measures to meet the grave challenges posed by global terrorism.” The report says the MHA’s major achievements include the establishment of new rapid-response hubs for the national Security Guard Special Forces, and the establishment of an online National Intelligence Grid.

Poor dividends from these measures do not come as a surprise. “Even though both state and central government have been scrambling to set up all kinds of special counter-terrorism forces,” says Dr. Ajai Sahni., Director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, “there has been no real effort to improve intelligence-gathering and investigations capabilities from the bottom-up.” No computer, he points out, is going to help you solve a case if you have got no worthwhile data to feed into it.

Investigators believe that all the five attacks are linked to members of the Indian Mujahideen (IM) a group inspired by the terrorist group in Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Toiba. The IM is responsible for a string of attacks in several Indian cities between 2006 and 2008. There was however, little evidence to support the charge, though the available intelligence suggests that the Lashkar has been attempting to regroup. The terrorists’ blast is said to the hands work of a new module born from within the IM.

Mumbai is not a problem. It is the fallout of administrative inadequacies. The financial capital requires a better attention. And it should not go out of the centre’s radar.

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