Whether it is commuters in a local train, farmers protesting against land grab, dalits trying to claim their rights, minority families during riots and now businessmen/women dining in an elite hotel, India is a country soaked in fear. What Mumbai faced on Wednesday, is nothing more than an extreme manifestation of a very broad failure of the Indian state to protect its citizens.
So in the long term, the solution to India’s security problems will not come from looking at the attacks in Mumbai in isolation, but from understanding and rectifying the deep problems in India’s security and law enforcement set up. So why does the Indian state fail to protect its constituents ?
Well, for starters one must realize that India faces vast and complex challenges when it comes to security. The principal challenge is that it is a vast, populated country with huge shifting populations and many, many different ethnic groups, quite a few of which dont get along very well. This challenge, though formidable, is certainly not insurmountable, and has been overcome in the past. But it requires a well organized, professional police force, an effective federal intelligence unit and a sophisticated communications network between federal, state and local security agencies. India’s security forces though, are mostly poorly equipped and in many cases not well trained, barring a few exceptions. This is nothing but the neglect and apathy of India’s political class, who have left many areas of the nation in a state of decay ranging from education to environmental protection. In those matters, however NGOs and other agencies try to fill the void, but NGOs cannot engage terrorists directly.
The second problem I can identify is that the justice system in India is in a state of disrepair. Again, the finger of blame lies points to India’s political leaders and their shameful bleeding of the courts, especially at the lower levels. This has created an atmosphere of impunity in the country, where perpetrators of atrocities of any nature know that the frequent delays and inefficiencies in the court system coupled with pressure from their political backers will render justice toothless. The truth is that many of our politicians rely on the support of thugs and goons at some level, and to let these people thrive they often deliberately bleed the police force and the judicial system.
Contrary to what many might believe I dont think the income inequality in India has much to do directly with India’s security problems. A lot of commentators, foreign and Indian have commented on how they feel safer in poor areas in Indian cities vis-a-vis similar areas in other countries. Obviously, India’s vast pool of semi/un employed youth (of all communities) are an enormous issue in the country, but I have yet to see much evidence directly linking them to the recruiting pool for the terrorist organizations. But yes, people who are unemployed + severely affected by riots (again, often instigated by politicians) are probably a major recruiting base for the Indian Mujahideen and their ilk. Which is why the rehabilitation of riot-affected communities is an important task, again this is neglected, due to political biases.
It is important to consider how important the specific issue of urban terrorism is to the vast majority of India’s populace. Remember, they live in villages, and as I pointed out earlier they face terror of a very different nature. This creates a very strange state of affairs, where the single most important issue for a large and influential set of voters perhaps does not directly connect with the mass of the voting populace. It is highly unlikely that AK-47/grenade kind of terrorist seen in Mumbai is high on the priority list of tribals in Madhya Pradesh, who face the terror of hunger everyday. This is a very tricky situation in India, not faced by other countries facing violent, organized terror. It is a result of the serious neglect of development of rural India, especially in the Hindi heartland, where most people might never even find out about the terror attacks.
One part of the solution to this particular problem lies in fiscal decentralization and letting states and major urban centres which generate more revenue (and suffer more organized violence) tax their citizens, and have the financial resources to develop capabilities to fight terror. This way, a commando force doesnt have to be sent from Delhi to fight terrorists in Mumbai, and can be stationed in Mumbai itself, sustained by the city’s people. The other part, actually involves appropriate centralization and intelligence co-ordination. India has rightly come under criticism from sections of the Indian and western media because of the intelligence failures that have become all too common. Obviously, local law-enforcement agencies will need localized, decentralized information networks for their ‘day-to-day’ work, but an effective central intelligence is needed to co-ordinate information collection and distribution and monitoring the overall work of security agencies.
The calamitous events in Mumbai have shaken and saddened me, especially as a Mumbaikar, me or my family member could have been among the victims. One can only pray that history does not repeat itself, but our political class has to take every step to make sure it doesnt.