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Why we should be ashamed

By Ram Madhav
July 18, 2006 18:03 IST
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Have you seen the visuals of the aftermath of the Mumbai blasts?

One feels ashamed at the sight of people -- dead and injured -- being carried on simple blankets and gunny sheets by ordinary citizens in a most rudimentary manner.

Contrast it with similar visuals elsewhere in the world when such incidents happen. You will find blaring sirens from ambulances and police vehicles, stretchers, trained volunteers and doctors. Everything in a matter of minutes.

One can understand our lack of preparedness if the incident had taken place at a remote place.

But it happened in Mumbai, the commercial capital of the country. It happened in a city which has been high on the target list of dreaded Islamic terrorists. And don't forget that every one in the government and outside knew about it.

Subsequently, the Bharatiya Janata Party slammed the government, accusing it of being a 'soft State.' A soft State may not act tough with the terrorists, but nevertheless it acts. But here is a State that doesn't want to act. This government is not just soft; it just doesn't have the will at all.

'We had some clues. I don't need to disclose all those things to you', Home Minister Shivraj Patil told the media outside the Prime Minister's Office on that fateful day. 'We knew some such thing was going to come, but didn't have any idea as to the place and time,' he added. So don't blame us, the terrorists did not inform us in advance about the place and time of their strikes. Is that what he meant?

In fact the home minister was not telling the truth.

The government had full information about the possible targets when the Intelligence Bureau picked up a Lashkar-e-Tayiba terrorist in Srinagar a few months ago.

On interrogation, he reportedly disclosed that there would be attacks on buses and trains in Mumbai and Delhi. The IB supposedly forwarded the information to the home ministry. The Maharashtra police now says they did not have any information at all from the IB.

The government had enough intelligence inputs to act. It knew the terrorist strikes would increase as Pakistan moves closer to elections, since it suits the general in power.

Many experts like former R&AW official B Raman have warned about the changed discourse of Al Qaeda, which is now talking about the 'Crusader-Jew-Hindu Nexus'.

In fact experts say the reason for choosing first class compartments as targets instead of the normally crowded general compartments was not because they are less crowded but because the target group for the Islamic terrorists -- the Crusader-Jew-Hindu -- travels in that class.

The government also knew about the activities of the Students Islamic Movement of India, its links with organisations not only in Pakistan but also in Bangladesh and Nepal, and the fact that Nepal is fast becoming a hideout for terror outfits.

Yet we were totally unprepared, because our political class singularly lacks will power in tackling this jihadi terrorism. In fact, not a single leader is even prepared to describe it as Islamic terrorism, whereas throughout the entire world it is recognised and tackled as that.

Islamic terrorism, for that matter any form of terrorism, is a war on civilised polities. It cannot be tackled as a mere law & order problem.

Several things need to be addressed to curb this menace.

The war on terror calls for greater preparation. We need to equip our security agencies and intelligence networks with better training and infrastructure.

The failure of our intelligence agencies is monumental. The operation in Mumbai, in which seven bombs were exploded in mere 11 minutes, must have involved great planning and preparation. The terrorists must have conducted reconnaissance missions. But unfortunately our intelligence agencies failed to pick up the signals in time.

However, it is easy to blame the intelligence agencies. We cannot overlook the fact that even the famed CIA and FBI had absolutely no clue about the 9/11 incident.

But the case for modernising our intelligence and law and order machinery is very strong today. The nation's police, especially in states like Maharashtra that are high on the terror agenda, is doing an excellent job with minimal resources and training. They deserve rich compliments for averting at least 10 to 12 major strikes in the last one year. Yet a lot needs to be done to improve their training and modernisation.

The previous National Democratic Alliance government deserves praise for its efforts in this direction. Under its home minister L K Advani, the NDA government had sanctioned huge amounts for the modernisation of the security establishment in the country keeping in view the growing terrorist challenge. However, the subsequent United Progressive Alliance government has allegedly curtailed that budget by a whopping Rs 1,600 crores.

For the constituents in the UPA, fighting terrorism is not a national security issue, it is purely a political and electoral concern.

That is why laws like POTA have been repealed. The security agencies are today totally helpless in the absence of effective instruments like stringent laws and better infrastructure.

Islamic terrorism is not merely something that is being imported from Pakistan. We should not ignore the fact that today there is a huge support mechanism available for Islamic terrorism to flourish in our country.

In fact the Mumbai blasts drive home another important reality, that the age of homegrown terrorism has arrived.

But we have a government that wants to repeal the 2001 ban on SIMI. Is it not a fact that the UPA government had sought the opinion of the states over the lifting of ban on SIMI? Can the government disclose which states have supported that idea and which states opposed it?

There is a scramble for Muslim votes in Uttar Pradesh by the Congress and Samajwadi Party. The Bahujan Samajwadi Party supreme Mayavati is also chipping in.

Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav has gone to the extent of describing SIMI activists as patriots. The lifting of the ban and withdrawing cases against SIMI activists involved in various crimes including fomenting communal riots is under active consideration by the Uttar Pradesh government.

The president of SIMI's Uttar Pradesh unit, who was the main accused in many crimes and went underground five years ago, surfaced last month in Kanpur claiming that the atmosphere is 'conducive' for him to surface, whatever that means.

The Maharashtra police, which was at one time considered an elite and efficient force, is struggling to grapple with a serious situation.

Their professionalism used to be rated very highly. But thanks to a former leader who allegedly auctioned police posts from constable to commissioner of police, the rot began to set in. The Mumbai police, for the first time, had to face the ignominy of arresting a police commissioner days after his retirement in a non-bailable offence.

The present state home minister has a reputation as an honest and upright man. He should stem this rot and brace the force to tackle these situations in a befitting manner.

But what really affects the morale of our establishment is the public discourse on these issues.

Our media immediately abrogates to itself the imagined responsibility of protecting secularism in the country and maintaining religious harmony etc. The whole discourse becomes Hindu-Muslim. The real issues are diverted by raising presumptuous and silly arguments like whether the Shiv Sena is behind these incidents or whether Bhiwandi is the provocation for it.

These apologists for the terrorists take their toll on the morale of the establishment. The police starts thinking more about providing security cover to mosques and madrassas than actually pursuing the criminals and punishing them.

One of the very first statements to emanate from the Union home secretary was that there was no connection between Srinagar blasts and Mumbai blasts. One of the earliest statements to come out of the government was that it would not derail the peace process with Pakistan.

Whatever some progressive television channels and Islamist apologist intellectuals say, these incidents are perpetrated by Islamic terrorists. They have their supporters all over India. This fact cannot be erased.

What the government should have done is to bluntly tell Pakistan that there would no further peace talks until terrorism is completely stamped out. The Mush-Bush alliance must be told by Bharat that it cannot be forced to sacrifice its own geo-security interests to protect the geo-strategic interests of that alliance.

One must also learn lessons from the Gujarat police. Controversies over its alleged role during the Godhra and post-Godhra riots notwithstanding, the Gujarat police has displayed exemplary professionalism in tackling terrorism.

Unlike the usual case, they have not stopped at arresting a few perpetrators, because they are merely pawns and their ringleaders and masterminds are always elsewhere. The Gujarat police has, in the last couple of years, successfully neutralised and incarcerated these masterminds and cut off their supply routes. This has resulted in enduring peace and terror-free life in that state.

Sadly, the UPA government lacks that courage.

That is why it 'urges Pakistan to take urgent steps to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism on the territory under its control.' The ministry of external affairs spokesperson 'hopes that that the government of Pakistan joins hands with India to defeat the forces of terrorism.'

A government that lacks backbone is the bane of a nation.

Ram Madhav is a former spokesperson for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

Complete coverage: The Mumbai Blasts

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Ram Madhav