Thursday, November 27, 2008

Stithi tanaavpurn magar niyantran mein hai...

Some form of “…situation is tense but under control…” will be the official version of Mumbai now. The first part is indeed true; the rest will become true soon – for the short run. 

Given the locus of these incidents, expect a lot more stridency in the voices that carry through popular and business press regarding the need for swift action, changes in laws and policing etc. Sadly, an examination of past reactions suggests that most of the talk will be misguided at best and dangerous, more likely.

“We need more stringent laws to deal with terrorist acts!” No we don’t. Maharashtra Control of Organized Crime Act (MCOCA) is already in force and some other states have similar specific laws to deal with such situations. Even without specific ‘terrorism related’ Acts; the absence of statutes is never an issue for investigation or prosecution – note how a much-maligned state has used the Arms Act to increase conviction rates.

We need a federal police to deal with major crimes such as terrorism” No we don’t. We need better police to deal with these or other crimes. And there’s no reason to believe that the central police will be better than the state police set-ups. The CBI suffers from the same ills that plague state police departments and the contagion will spread to any new agency that is set up.

“The rabid Hindu fundamentalists are behind this. It is a great threat to our secular fabric.” No, it isn’t. A bunch of criminals did this – well coordinated and effective, given the number of simultaneous acts they managed to execute in secrecy. And we need to solve that problem, not create another one by giving this unproven communal color.

“All muslims aren’t terrorists but all terrorists are muslims. Hindus are under threat because of the pseudo-secularists.” No, they aren’t. Terrorism is an instrument that fanatics among most religions use today – including the atheist naxals. And the random firing and bomb blasts do not discriminate by religion in their impact. All of us are under threat because of poor governance.

Which is what it’s all about – poor governance. Across party lines and in most states, self-serving leadership took charge of the legislative branch (similar demographics as the Founding Brothers but alas, not the same commitment to meritocracy and institutions) after independence and spawned, in the main, an avaricious next generation of leaders who collectively hollowed the polity during the 1970s and 1980s. Unsurprisingly, the current crop of leaders – from the Grand Old Party to the one with a difference through the various newly empowered classes – all are captives to the criminals in their midst. The real fix to our ills – at least on the law-and-order side of things – is to weed the criminal elements (the criminals, conspirators and their tacit supporters) out of our legislative wing.

A word of caution. Do not hold your breath. 

Shorter term fix – which may be equally difficult to get through – is to tackle the mix of intelligence, police, investigative aspects. 

Given the coordination needed for this attack, this is a significant intelligence failure. We have, among democratic nations, one of the most extensive internal intelligence setups in the world. Lets shake the deadwood out and focus them on things that matter. Police: separate the lathi wielding and the traffic police from the units needed for such situations. We need more and better equipped ATS and other special-weapons-and-tactics units. The supreme sacrifice of senior officers is a testimony to their individual courage even when in an under-funded and poorly organized part of the force. Investigation – again, we need specialists for the job – those who focus on solving the crime and not on media appearances. 

A mix of effective intelligence, police response and investigation will make future aspirants to such acts pause. 

We survive on such hope. And, as the newspapers and magazines will remind us in a few hours from now, on the incredible resilience of the Mumbaikers etc etc.