BY KARAN TYAGI
I remember November 26, 2008. I remember, vividly, the smell of terror surrounding Mumbai when 10 young jihadis with guns in their hand and hate in their eyes took over my city and declared war on my country. The dastardly events took place in two well-known luxury hotels, a 20-year-old railway terminus traversed by thousands every day, a popular cafe filled with foreign tourists and locals, an unknown place of refuge, and a common maternity hospital. Terrorists opened fire and cut down men, women and children of every social stratum of the city and from every corner of the globe.
The attacks raised a lot of questions in the minds of all Indians. Are we living in callous times? Are we being run by a bunch of corrupt and inept politicians who can’t even have in place a basic game plan to manage a crisis of this magnitude? Do we need to change our mechanism of intelligence gathering?
Now that the first anniversary of the attacks is here, it might be a good time to revisit the same questions to know how much has really changed since, Mumbai and India were held ransom by ten terrorists.
Sadly, not much has changed. A year down the line no individual has been held accountable or punished for such a heinous act. It was only yesterday that the Pakistan Anti-Terrorism Court formally charged seven suspects, including Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, with planning and helping execute the Mumbai attacks. It is better late than never, but one only hopes that this indictment will be taken to its logical conclusion without any further delay.
In India itself, the trial of Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone jihadi captured alive, has been turned into a prolonged circus that is serving no one. Kasab initially pleaded not guilty, but later, on July 20th, admitted his guilt. The court accepted his plea and placed the confessional statement on record, but dubbed the admission of guilt as a partial admission and let the trial proceed.
By all reckoning, Kasab’s is an open and shut case. So why not get on with it and reach the inevitable end? I am not suggesting kangaroo courts and summary trials, but delays like this don’t translate into justice. It is especially distressing to see such problems continue to emerge after the discomforting maze of the Indian judicial system was so badly exposed to the whole world when the Trial Court took thirteen years to bring down curtains to the 1993 Bombay Bomb Blast case.
In the immediate wake of the attacks, there was a change in guard at the Ministry of Home Affairs, with the appointment of P. Chidambaram, a lawyer and a Harvard Business School graduate, as Home Minister. Regional hubs of the country’s elite anti-terrorist force, the National Security Guard (NSG), were also established. A National Investigation Agency was set up by him to probe and pre-empt any terrorist attempt. But, the fact is that Mr. Chidambaram needs to recognize is that India has never lacked agencies–in fact, it is the multitude of intelligence agencies, and their lack of cooperation, that has been the reason for the failure to prevent terrorist attacks like those of November 26, 2008. The lack of co-ordination between the Intelligence Agencies, the Naval Agencies, the Coast Guard Agencies and the local police was what enabled the terrorists to slip through and land on Bombay’s beaches that day.
It is the Indian local police that are entrusted with the duty to implement strategies to prevent terrorist attacks at the ground level. The Maharashtra state government’s support for their capabilities, however, has been shoddy, to say the least. Even today, the local police are grossly unprepared to deal with terror attacks, because of an acute shortage of weapons and ammunition. Official records show that for a force of well over 180,000, the home department procured a meagre 2,221 weapons, 577 for Mumbai and 1,644 for the rest of Maharashtra, in the last six years. In the absence of a firing range and ammunition for practice, local policemen have not opened fire in the last 10 years. The newly-created Indian Marine Police (IMP) has set up some of the planned seven dozen coastal police stations but, they have only received about four dozen of the total of 20 dozen small five-tonne and 12-tonne-high speed boats. The IMP needs more than 500 small high-speed boats and about 12 dozen coastal police stations for more effective patrolling.
Substandard bullet-proof jackets are supposed to be one of the many reasons that caused the death of many brave policemen during the terror strikes. A year after the attacks, the Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan said last Sunday that he would investigate reports that policemen remain easily exposed to bullet wounds. But these reports have been circulating for almost a year, and the question could well be asked: what exactly Maharashtra’s Chief Minister and Home Minister have been doing for the last 12 months?
Why is the Maharashtra Government so insensitive and apathetic? And when will its so-called policy makers stop hiding behind the veil of anonymity? After the last bullet was fired in Mumbai, there was an outpouring of anger and much dismay at the “political system”: the whole country ranted, raved, and took to the streets to protest against a political leadership that had wholly mismanaged internal security.
A year later, the same political leadership has returned to power, and the section of the population that had taken to the streets one year earlier were nowhere to be seen on voting day. The voter turnout in Bombay was an abysmal 46% in the State Assembly elections and an even more dismal 43% in the Parliamentary elections. The truth is that the fault lies not only in our politicians and leaders, but also in us. The low voter turnout proves that we Indians have started to believe that the intangible “political system” is demonic and that there is nothing that we as common men and women can do to change it. What we need to realize is that it is only the citizens that can cause real change. The current electoral system in India offers no hope and the need of the hour is urgent changes that will invite engagement, loyalty and pride from all of us.
But the biggest tragedy is that we don’t know how to respect our heroes. We don’t know how to respect, cherish and immortalize their sacrifices. November 26th should mean something for us all. It should mean recognition of the sacrifices that have been made, and that are still being made, by policemen, soldiers, their families and their children. It should mean appreciation for what thousands of brave policemen and soldiers have done for India – not just on that fateful night but in all other wars that my country has fought and is still fighting to preserve our freedoms. I pray that heroes like Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, Anti-Terrorist Squad Chief Hemant Karkare, Additional Commissioner Ashok Kamte, Senior Police Inspector Vijay Salaskar, Constable Ombale and several others shall not have lived and fought and died in vain.
Karan Singh Tyagi is an LL.M. student from India.