• News
  • Columns
  • Interviews
  • BW Communities
  • Events
  • BW TV
  • Subscribe to Print
  • Editorial Calendar 19-20
BW Businessworld

What Have We Learnt?

Photo Credit :

By the time you read this article, a year would have passed since 10 heavily armed Pakistanis got off rubber dinghies at the Cuffe Parade fishing village in Mumbai and, for the next three days, kept the police at bay while systematically killing some 175 people. 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. 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 P. 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 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 is my take: As far as intelligence gathering goes, we probably average five out of 10. 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 10. 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 No. 2: 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, 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 with."

Has the quality of the police force improved in the past one year? Even in Mumbai? 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 frontline — the good old Mumbai police? They are still overweight; 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 is 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.

The author is chairman of CERG Advisory.

omkar dot goswami at cergindia dot com

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 07-12-2009)