Archive for February, 2013

Each man for himself….

Posted: February 22, 2013 in Terrorism
Tags: ,

Isn’t it a scary thought? The Andhra Government and the Hyderabad Police were aware of a terror threat as late as Thursday morning, but didn’t do much. In effect, it didn’t really have a clue as to what steps it should take to protect its citizens and pre-empt such threats – or didn’t take it seriously. The point is they found and defused two other bombs after the first two had killed 12 people and injured 84 others? Now how did they do that?

Elsewhere in the world, at least in countries like the US, Uk and some in Europe, the police acts on the intel they get. Look at how the Americans have strengthened their security. We might swear at them because an SRK or an APJ Abdul Kalam gets frisked at airports. Sometimes extreme paranoia is a good thing and they really don’t care how critically the rest of the world views their security apparatus. Their first job is to keep their country and citizens safe and it’s the middle finger to all those who disagree with their methods.

In India, on the other hand, the administration’s attitude is “let it happen.  Then we’ll see.” Like what happened in Mumbai in 2008. The Centre acted like the bureaucrats who work under them and took their own sweet time to send in the NSG commandos, when the latter in reality should have been in Mumbai by midnight.  Like what happened in Delhi at various times, like what happened in Hyderabad  last evening.

So to me the scariest thought is that we citizens are basically on our own. No one will protect us. No one cares. The VVIPs will get even more security, and never mind what the Supreme Court says. The city’s leaders will put up barricades near their homes and the Army Commander will build another wall to protect his home from an armed attack. But the citizen will have to fend for himself. He will have to travel in the city bus wondering whether the bag lying under his seat only has books or something more lethal. It’s almost as if a few dozen or even a hundred lives are collateral damage in a larger scheme of things. The citizen is a non-issue for the politician. His death is a small price to pay so that those nincompoops with their Black Cats and their bullet proof cars can stay alive.

Have you been reading about the number of incidents of bags and briefcases found lying attended in various parts of the city? How do we know this is not a deliberate attempt by terror groups to test the preparedness of the police? What’s the guarantee that the scooter parked next to you on a busy street isn’t packed with explosives or the handcart which you just passed in a narrow, crowded street doesn’t have a bomb placed under it? That is the feeling that has gripped citizens. And in the midst of this is a terrifying thought. We are alone and at the mercy of this nameless, faceless bunch of cold blooded killers. No one, not the administration, not the police is going to be there to protect us, when lives are blown to smithereens.

When I left office around midnight, I read what the Pune Police Commissioner said about an alert in the city. That there would be intensified patrolling. I drove a distance of roughly 14 kms through various areas of the city. I didn’t see even one policeman or even a police van patrolling the streets. I passed three police stations on the way and there wasn’t even a police jeep or a cop around. This is the Pune Police’s idea of a heightened security alert. Otherwise all along the road on my home, during the day there are cops lurking behind trees to grab unsuspecting motorcyclists and extort money from them.

This is the sad fact of our lives today. Look at what happened in Hyderabad last night. Did those unfortunate souls have a clue that they would be dead in sixty seconds? Or some of them would be missing a leg or a hand or both in a flash of a second? And this after the cops had credible information of a bomb threat in the area. Did they double the police force? Did they increase patrolling, look out for suspicious objects? Did they have sniffer dogs along with them when they knew? Did they install close circuit TV cameras? Nothing was done, because no one cared.

The unfortunate truth is that we are on our own.

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“What puzzled me about Sonia in those early days was her complete lack of interest in doing something worthwhile in response to the dreadful poverty she saw everyday in her husband’s country… The only comment on politics I remember her making was on a night when Rajiv and she were dropping me home after a dinner party. I asked her if she would like her children to be in politics some day, and she said, ‘I would rather my children begged in the streets than went into politics.”

Engrossing, and voyeuristic, is how one could describe Durbar, well-known political journalist Tavleen Singh’s book on the Indian political scenario since the Emergency. And if you’re a Nehru-Gandhi family basher, you’ll love the book!

Tavleen Singh began her career with The Statesman as a junior reporter in 1975 and within five weeks of that she witnessed post-independent India’s most turbulent period. On June 12, 1975 the Allahabad High Court annulled the election of Mrs Gandhi from Rae Bareli. And around a fortnight later, on June 26, claiming the country was being destabilised, she declared an Emergency.

Tavleen’s account of the days during and after the Emergency details the rise of Sanjay Gandhi as a political force, his five-point programme that was meant to make India a better place, but which, she says, only ended up doing more harm than good. Her description of the events that led to the demolition of Muslim settlements at Turkman Gate and the subsequent riots that broke out resulting in the deaths of a number of Muslims, make for avid reading, especially if you’re, like me, interested in politics and politicians. Quite a few incidents she has written about are, as she herself claims, hearsay, but since she has made them public, we’ll take her word for it.

However, what held my interest was her description of Operation Bluestar, the ascension of Rajiv Gandhi as prime minister on the assassination of his mother, and his refusal to stop the riots that followed, resulting in the cold blooded murders of countless Sikhs on Delhi’s streets. Having been a part of Sonia Gandhi’s circle of friends, Tavleen gives us a pretty unflattering view of India’s Camelot. It is something loyalists of the First Family might find hard to digest. Rajiv, according to her, is a “comical, half-witted prince with no idea of the country he was ruling or its problems” – the charm notwithstanding.

There are other incidents she describes that show Rajiv in very poor light. The Indian Airlines hijack incident, the much publicised visit to Kalahandi in Orissa, his public sacking of the foreign secretary, his reluctance to order a probe into the Bofors deal, which did make people wonder whether he was shielding anyone specific, his role in the problems in Kashmir which India is still paying for, his disastrous forays into Sri Lanka (the IPKF) and Nepal, his inner circle of advisors, and the stranglehold of the bureaucracy and the power brokers over the late prime minister, once the corruption charges began to flow thick and fast, all portray Rajiv as an incompetent leader with little understanding of ground realities.

Sonia is portrayed as a warm, friendly person at times, but indifferent to India’s problems, at others. She is caring towards her family and friends but contemptuous towards her husband’s political advisors and politicians. One senses that Tavleen is bitter at being dumped by Sonia Gandhi, even though she feels she was only doing her job, and ‘Durbar’ seems to be a way to get back at the First Family. But look at the bright side. If Tavleen had remained one of Sonia Gandhi’s close friends, I doubt if we would have got an almost voyeuristic account on the role of India’s First Family, so up close and personal, in India’s recent history.