The terror bombings in Mumbai – by now a periodic occurrence – are like the cyclones that hit India’s east coast every other year which nobody can do much about. Like in earlier instances, this time around too, it has engendered the usual mea culpas of “There was failure but we’ll do better next time”-kind accompanied by the sight of befuddled politicians and frowning, file-carrying, bureaucrats scurrying about accomplishing much of nothing. Is there any excuse for the lack of in-built redundancy in the communications net that had the Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chauhan cut off from the various security agencies for the critical quarter of an hour and more after the carnage started, forcing him to rely on television reports to clue him to the bombings?
Chauhan in Mumbai and Manmohan Singh in New Delhi and everybody in between in position of authority ended up one way or another blaming “the system” for the failure, as if the “system” was something separate from those manning and presiding over it. Political leaders form the core and are apex level decision-makers. But as the record of sustained misgovernance and non-governance that is increasingly becoming the norm shows, they are more interested in wringing lucre and political advantage out of it, than doing the people or the country any good. While entirely responsible for the mess they have created, they are loath to own up to failure, leave alone face punishment. So, mistakes, muddles, mayhem, malfeasance, scams, scandals, rail accidents, and horrid infrastructure are all readily attributed to weaknesses in “the system” as are the outcomes of deliberate acts of omission and commission by them. The resulting unpredictable, personalised, and ad hoc functioning of government and police agencies, in fact, is what marks out India, notwithstanding the hoo-ha about its being a big emerging market and potential great power, as just another run-of-the-mill disorganized and mismanaged Third World state in no way meriting a place amongst the elite nations.
How much of a Third World state? Well, comparing India and Pakistan using the “Failed States Index 2011”-data provides perspective sorely lacking in most analyses. Pakistan is ranked 12th in the list of failed states topped by Somalia, Chad, and Sudan in the seventh edition of this Index released last month in Washington, DC. This is an improvement over its 9th place finish in 2009. India is ranked 76th – actually dropping down three places from 79th a year ago. Pakistan earns its dubious honour owing to what is judged to be “poor” quality of civil service and police resulting in bad administration and even worse law and order situation, and “weak” political leadership and judiciary. More specifically, as regards “group grievance” which accounts for violence and strife in society, and insurgency and secessionism, on a scale of 10, Pakistan scores 9.3 to India’s 8.2 – not that much behind a country habitually referred by the Indian political class and the commentariat as a “failed state”. The two countries are both rated 8.5 where “uneven development” is concerned, and graded about the same in the quality of their “public services” – 7.3 for Pakistan to 7.2 for India. On the whole though, Pakistan is deemed to be in “critical” condition and India is declared “borderline”.
Just why India barely passes muster is best explained by considering what the Indian and state governments have not done since the 26/11 terror strike. Nearly three years on, few of the recommendations for streamlining intelligence gathering and dissemination, upgrading police capabilities, and structural reforms in the law and order apparatus have actually been implemented, with the decision processes mired in turf battles and bureaucratic wrangling. Such actions as were realized like acquiring armed armoured boats for Mumbai inshore water policing, for instance, has been neutered by not providing adequate fuel for patrolling and allowing these expensive assets to rot. The problem at one level is the sheer multiplicity of organizations and agencies tasked with the same job without a clear authority line. It has led to each of these units working, if at all, at cross purposes with the others. It is a perfect setup for “pass the buck and blame”-game that invariably follows in a crisis. It permits everybody to escape accountability. With the Congress Party both running Maharashtra and ruling in Delhi, in theory, there ought to be less reason for the official haplessness on display as was the case after the 26/11 attack and, again, in the wake of the July 13 terror bombings. In practice, it does not matter. Mumbai may as well be another country.
P. Chidambaram, the Union Home Minister, about as effective as the Maharashtra Home Minister R.R. Patil, was elevated to the sole command over all internal security programs and the plethora of Intelligence outfits. Despite being aware of the immanence of the terrorist threat, he has not thought it necessary to order the line agencies into realizing on the double – and no nonsense about it — corrective measures, such as the national grid for intelligence information, he had accorded priority after 26/11. However, the NATGRID that was supposed to be the one point source for authoritative and continually updated information Central and State police and other relevant agencies can access and act on in real-time basis is still only an abstraction, providing grist for inter-agency squabbles. The formal excuse is that the Paper outlining this information coordination and diffusion mechanism is being evaluated. But shouldn’t Chidambaram have cracked the whip and brought closure to this interminable file-pushing and fighting a long time back?
This brings the discussion to the nub of the problem: the unwillingness of ministers and political leaders in the loop to take hard decisions, because doing so will deny them the escape route should things going wrong. Their reluctance to hammer a more effective law and order arrangement into place is also because a large number of politicians everywhere are involved in collusive criminality with the underworld. In Mumbai and Maharashtra, they have links with the Dawood Ibrahim gang and, indirectly the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence. Talk of enemy at the gate. He is inside the house.
[Published in ‘The AsianAge’ & ‘The Deccan Chronicle’, July 21, 2011, at www.asianage.com/columnists/terror-apathy-873 ]