March 12, 1993. December 6, 2002. January 27, 2003. March 14, 2003. July 28, 2003. August 25, 2003. July 11, 2006.November 26, 2008. July 13, 2011.
All these dates have only one thing in common. On all these fateful days, Mumbai, touted as the financial capital of the country, suffered terrorist bombings resulting in the loss of innocent civilian lives. More devastatingly, such attacks tore the very fabric of social life in a city where an incredible 20694 people live on every square km of land. The notorious “Mumbai stoicism”, which apparently helps Mumbaikars get back on their feet and continue their daily lives as though nothing has happened, is a glorified media creation. Across the world, every major city living under the continuous threat of terrorist attacks has acquired this quality. In my opinion, it is not stoicism. It is numbness. An acquired ability to block out the cruel quirks of depraved minds that may snatch away your life without even a moment’s notice – it is not a quality to be proud of.
How did we reach this situation? Let us go back to the dates of the attacks. Before 2001, Mumbai had suffered only one major attack. After 9/11, the entire game changed all over the world. US homeland security tightened up the internal security measures, to the point where even visiting dignitaries were sometimes frisked, diplomatic immunity notwithstanding. Although the political community was quick to decry what it saw as US high-handedness, the stark truth is that such heavy, impersonal security measures work. Contrast this with India, where the airport security measures are often an elaborate joke. The Thiruvananthapuram International airport sees goods worth lakhs of rupees being smuggled in through its international freight cargo hub three days of the week like clockwork. No authority has managed to stop it till now. It is only recently that the CBI has woken up to the danger that this illegal import trade poses to the nation’s internal security. With the focus of nationwide intelligence measures concentrated mainly on the metros, the authorities are often incapable of monitoring the minor ports and hubs in relatively safer states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu. If these states have remained safe till now, it is not because their intelligence and law enforcement networks are top-notch, but because it suits the terrorists’ agenda for now. While the authorities are futilely patrolling the major states, they can use such safe havens to smuggle in arms, currency and men into the country.
Theories and plans aplenty have been floated to resuscitate the situation, and I personally find that the following steps make the most sense:
Better information sharing among intelligence agencies
Every state is pumping in considerable sums of money to increase the resources and training of their intelligence wings. But these agencies often work in silos. Intra-agency rivalry results in information being exchanged late or not at all. The National Investigative Agency should be reconstituted if necessary to act as a dynamic repository for all information, however trivial, collected from all parts of the country. Possible coherent scenarios should be stitched together from these pieces of information and conveyed to the concerned State agencies.
Fast track courts to try terrorist cases and appeals
Ajmal Kasab (the main accused in the November 2008 attack in Mumbai that left 164 dead including 6 Americans) is still languishing in an Indian jail, 3 years after the event. Even though the Maharashtra police filed an 11000 page charge sheet against him, including crucial pieces of evidence such as CCTV footage of Kasab in action, a video confession and several witness statements, the case is yet to move anywhere. Given such a scenario, it is imperative that we introduce fast track courts that will hear only such cases and ensure time bound proceedings.
Eradication of corruption and bureaucratic red tape
Recently, it became known that a Pakistani citizen by the name of Amjadulla Ansari has been the proud owner of a 10 cent plot of land along with a house at Kovalam, a beach resort in the state of Kerala. The police and other law enforcement agencies in the state were blissfully unaware of this astounding state of affairs. Now that this glaring omission has been brought to light, there is a scramble at the top levels of bureaucracy to shift blame and to cover up the whole investigation. But the very fact that a Pakistani citizen was able to buy a plot of land and a house in one of the most popular tourist spots in India (think of the intelligence implications) points fingers towards the lax and easily bendable work ethics of revenue and law agencies.
Better education and employment opportunities for impoverished youth, especially in the terrorist catchment areas of slums and villages
This is Economics 101. Not many youths would be gung-ho about martyring themselves to take the lives of innocents if they can instead pursue a viable means of living.
And most important of all, an all-party consensus on immediate and long term measures to be taken to tighten security internally and externally.