Archive for the ‘Terrorism’ Category

Each man for himself….

Posted: February 22, 2013 in Terrorism
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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.


Reading about the German bakery blasts and the terror attack in New Delhi on Monday, brought back a few memories. Some time in early 1986 when I was just a year into journalism, we were sitting around after putting the paper to bed when three clean-shaved young men walked into the then Maharashtra Herald office on Thimayya Road better known as East Street.

They said they wanted to check out some affordable, rented accommodation and asked if they could go through the classified pages of the newspaper, which then was the only local newspaper in Pune, worth its name.

So as they flipped through the pages we asked them what kind of place they were looking for. They said they were looking for something quiet and nondescript, where the rents would be low as they were all college students and couldn’t really afford steep rents.

Salunke Vihar, the AWHO society was still relatively unknown but since I had a friend who stayed there I got to know that rents were affordable and being an Army colony, and still a little secluded there was some semblance of security. We too had decided to move there once my aunt retired from her job at Hindustan Antibiotics in 1987, because it was just a few kilometres from the MH office and would be more convenient for me.

I, being the ‘ever-helpful’ type (!), piped in, “Why don’t you try Salunke Vihar, the rents are affordable and three of you could easily afford to stay there?”

These polite young men chatted with us a little more, thanked us and left. By the next day we had forgotten about them and our life went back to its mundane existence of deadlines, leads and headlines!
Then in August 1986, Gen Arunkumar Vaidya was shot in Pune and like I had mentioned in an earlier blog, our editor S.D. Wagh had also got a threatening letter, so our office was chock-a-block with securitymen.

A few days later, we were standing outside the office in the evening, doing a little ‘bird-watching’ when two youths on a motorcycle slowed down as they passed our office and looked inside. A colleague rudely gestured at them questioningly, asking what they were looking at. The motorcyclists sped away.

Quite a few months later, we were in office when we heard that there had been a shootout in Pimpri, on the national highway and two men had been arrested. The cops announced that they had cracked the assassination of Gen Vaidya and Congress leader Lalit Maken.

A few days had passed when, (I think it was) Taher Shaikh who was covering the case, brought pictures of the three suspects to office, before and after they had been arrested. One set had them heavily bearded and in the other set of pictures they were shaved. I had no recollection of ever seeing these ‘terrorists’, but it was one of my colleagues who exclaimed, “You remember these guys? They had come to our office one night, wanting to go through our classifieds!”

Then another said that these were the same guys on the motorcycle who were looking into our office, that day when we were standing outside. Again, I had no recollection since I had more interesting stuff to watch on East Street than two weirdos on a bike!

Later, of course, I was horrified and a little flattered, because I mistakenly (and pompously) believed that if these were the same three guys, they had actually taken my advice and moved into Salunke Vihar – bang opposite the home of Gen Vaidya. He, of course, soon moved out of there into a bungalow in Koregaon Park, but they obviously kept tabs on his whereabouts even after that, till they finally shot him. Someone suggested in jest that I should go to the cops. When I didn’t even remember their faces I would hardly make a credible eyewitness!

I was then a fresher and too cocky trying to be a ‘journalist’. Now, I might think twice if someone asked me something, even if it’s not remotely suspicious, like the time! That’s what journalism does to people! But bizarre as it may seem, the faces of terror are just like yours and mine, aren’t they? How do you know that the person who asks you for information in the middle of a busy street is not a helpless citizen but a trigger-happy nut-case?

Gautam Sathe a friend who died some months ago had once described to me how he had escaped certain death thrice on the same night when Pakistani terrorists hit Mumbai in 2008. He added rather philosophically, “I really don’t know when I leave home in the morning, whether I’ll be back home alive in the evening.“

That’s the price the ordinary citizen has to pay, for the follies of the political class.

Last Thursday I was at Pune International Airport on my way to Kochi via Bengaluru. Since I had just some hand luggage I ran it through the scanner and as I stepped forward for a body check, I was watching the face of the security personnel. It was 5.30 am, and he was either completely bored with his job or still only half awake, because he ran the metal detector over my person, in a manner that suggested that he would rather be back home in bed. He was anything but sleepy, as I realised later. At one point as he ran the device under my arms he asked me what was in my trouser pocket! Taken aback, I pulled out some pieces of mint. He ran the device over it and then I wondered whether he was going to ask me to swallow one, just to see if I would self-destruct! He then opened my wallet and saw my PRESS card and decided that I was harmless. But he still ran the device over it before letting me through.

At the Bengaluru International Airport, the same afternoon, as I was passing through security, to take the flight to Kochi, I watched very interestedly as an elderly but dishevelled gentleman with a slight speech disorder argued with the security personnel about the aftershave in his bag. The uniformed chap just pulled out the aftershave and a canister of deodorant and asked the old man very quietly which one he wanted to retain. As the man argued on, the security guy, silently, picked up the deo and flung it on the floor, where it lay with a dozen or so more such canisters. He then picked up a cigarette lighter and flung that down as well. By then the old man had turned red and sullen. He turned sarcastically to the security man and asked if he wanted the cigarette packet too. The guy smirked and stuck out his palm. The old man realised he was beaten and quietly left.

Even more interesting was the scene a few feet away. A bearded young man was asked to open his bags and remove everything. The securityman then opened a Bournvita bottle which was among his stuff. He then stuck a pin-shaped metal detector inside, then pulled it out and inserted into a machine with a computer screen. He did that with each bottle and this kid had quite a few. He was obviously a student going back to college loaded with goodies his mom must have packed for him. Very patiently the kid opened each bottle and shut it after it was checked and repacked all his stuff. But he didn’t once lose his cool and even thanked the security personnel as he left.

Yesterday, as I watched the scenes of the carnage at the Delhi High Court, I thought about the scene at the Pune and Bengaluru airports and thanked my stars that at least someone cared for our safety. What is even more tragic is the fact that the incident could have been avoided if the cops had been more vigilant and had there been CCTVs installed, the procurement of which was still in the tendering process, since July last after a bomb was discovered at the same venue. Unfortunately, what’s more important for our officials is to clear a ward of ‘unwelcome’ relatives visiting the seriously injured, because some politicians want to indulge in their five minutes of PR activity.

And then today, a Pune tabloid had a front-page report about the Pune Railway station, which said that conscientious passengers got their baggage scanned on their own since there was no experienced person manning the x-ray machines! So when did you last hear about a bomb-carrying terrorist putting his baggage through a scanner? Well if the Pune Police is to be believed, that’s probably what they are expecting. Also, that there was no security paraphernalia at such places even two hours after the blast in Delhi. So much for terror alerts and messages on being vigilant! And this in a city now recognised, as a sanctuary for terrorist sleeper cells.

I am appalled at the complete lack of urgency being shown by the cops. I understand that they are severely short-staffed and are jittery about the mayhem that could be caused if something untoward occurs at the Ganesh mandals, but to leave a railway station or a bus terminal completely unguarded is asking for trouble. When will our cops learn that it’s no use checking bags after a blast? I guess this happens because of the general attitude of “jab hoga tab dekha jayega” that pervades every strata of our society. But they’re not alone to blame. A lot of us are like the old man, when we should be like the young guy who I saw at Bengaluru airport.

So another important Indian official got frisked at some US airport. The Yanks probably thought she had an AK-56 hidden in the folds of her sari! But jokes aside, at least she got frisked. In India try frisking your own MPs and bureaucrats and the next thing you know the Airport Manager will be transferred to Tinsukhia.

I remember the outcry by MPs and bureaucrats when it was suggested that they all be frisked at airports. What’s the harm? If they are carrying firearms they can declare it. And like the rule states, it will be handed back to them once the aircraft reaches the destination. But it does make one wonder why they refuse to be frisked –especially when they and returning with their spouse from sojourns abroad.

I’ll agree that the US airports do stretch things a bit at times – like when they made Defence Minister George Fernandes undergo a strip search and patted down former president APJ Abdul Kalam. But sometimes an advanced state of paranoia is a good thing. The US has, by and large, managed to avoid any major terrorist attack after 26/11, unlike here where we wait for an incident to happen and then make a lot of noise, point fingers at the whole world and generally flounder around. At most places there isn’t security worth its name.

Every time I read about a bomb blast somewhere in the country I realise how helpless we are when it comes to protecting ourselves. While politicians get z+ security the common people are left to fend for themselves. Look at what happened in Varanasi. A bomb went off and, somebody died because the police were goofing off on the job – which is nothing new when it comes to the UP Police. But instead of doing something, Mayawatiji says the Centre should give her the kind of security that Mumbai got after 26/11! Then the Centre blames UP, and the chief minister throws it right back. In all the buck-passing the people who suffer are mere statistics.

Take even Pune, German Bakery was reduced to rubble two years ago, but it hasn’t really changed anything here, has it? At one of the biggest malls in Pune the security apparatus is a joke. At this place two people – one who slides a mirror under the car and the other who opens your boot and gives it a cursory look- are what we have in terms of security. Where is the thorough check that is required?

Hundreds of people flock to the mall every day and the damage in terms of lives and property can well be imagined if some nut-case decides to do something. Yet is the Pune Police or even the authorities at the mall bothered? The cops will shrug it off with the words that security inside the mall is not their concern, and the Mall owners will say they are doing all they can. But is that enough? So often, we’ve parked our car in the parking lot at the mall and stepped across the road to do some shopping.

A colleague told me this rather interesting story and I think it fits perfectly into the bureaucratic bungling which we see when a terrorist attack takes place. She was in Delhi in 2001 with students on a study tour when terrorists struck Parliament House. The Capital was suddenly under siege so the lady decided to visit George Fernandes, who was a friend of her father’s and also the defence minister.

When she reached his house she informed the security personnel who informed Fernandes. The minister called her and the kids in, but, surprisingly, his security refused to allow them in! Since this was the day after the Parliament attack they were adamant that no one would be allowed in even without the required approval, even though the minister had no objection, since guarding him inside his house was their responsibility.

The security personnel then told the lady that she could meet Fernandes when he drove out of his bungalow. Once the minister left the bungalow, he would step out of the car and meet them. The lady then posed the classic question: What if, when Fernandes steps out of the car, someone waiting across the road shot at him?

The security officer’s answer left her speechless. “That’s not our problem. Our jurisdiction ends the minute he steps out of the gate. If something happens after he leaves his residence, that’s the responsibility of the commandos protecting him.”

Ok, here’s a quick quiz? And don’t surf the Internet for answers, be honest with yourself.

• What was the exact date of the bomb blasts in Sarojini Nagar in New Delhi?
• When were the bomb blasts in Greater Kailash Market and Karol Bagh in New Delhi?

How many of you guessed correctly? Let me be honest, even I didn’t know the precise answers to these questions. So why can’t we recollect the dates of the blasts in Delhi? Is it because those who got killed were people just like you and me (I mean the middle class) who were out there shopping, looking for a bargain in the middle class markets of Delhi when they were blown to smithereens? So what am I getting at?

I’ve been reading with interest Salman Khan’s comments on the terror attacks in Mumbai on 26/11 and the reactions to it by politicians. According to the websites, this is one half of his comment: “It was the elite that were targeted this time. Five star hotels and all. So they panicked. Then they got up and spoke about it. My question is why not before. Attacks have happened in trains and small towns too, but no one talked about it so much.”

I can’t seem to find the other half of his comment on Pakistan’s involvement (or the lack of it) anywhere. But if he has said that Pakistan is not involved then he should be condemned, because by now the world knows that Pakistan was in it neck deep.

But coming to the first half of Salman’s comment, what has he said that is so wrong? Moreover, why has it angered the political class, most of who were anyway missing when people were getting slaughtered and when policemen and hotel staff died in the line of duty on 26/11 in Mumbai? Like always, they know they can get their two minutes of fame if they drag the name of a film star into a needless controversy. So why not do it? So let’s not get swayed by all the nonsense and breast-beating indulged in by the politicians at Salman’s comment.

People have died in blasts set off in Mumbai’s local trains and in buses, or in Delhi’s GK Market, Paharganj, Akshardham, but no one remembers and no one cares, because it was the little guy who died. No one lit a candle for them and no one ever held placards that said “Enough is enough!”

The unpleasant truth is that one of the main reasons why 26/11 remains etched in public memory, is because the Taj Mahal Hotel & Oberoi Trident is frequented by the rich and famous, many of whom were in there, when the terrorists stormed the two places. I remember the comments by the Shobha Des and the Suhel Seths of the world who were outraged by what happened at the two hotels. I also remember the reactions of the man on the street and it was precisely what Salman said – that the only reason why everyone was making so much noise is because this time it’s the RICH THAT GOT HIT. Earlier, when the poor man on the street got blown up everyone forgot about it in a few weeks time.

Incidentally, more people died at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (58), Cama Hospital (8) and Leopold Cafe (10), Chabad House in two hours of mayhem than either at the Taj Mahal Hotel (32) or the Oberoi Trident (36) in over three days. And let’s not forget the NSG commando and the brave cops who were killed in action. I am also not implying that I don’t sympathise with the people who lost members of their family in either of these hotels or the bravery of the hotel staff that placed itself in the line of fire to protect the guests. But the truth is we still remember 26/11 more for the mayhem that unfolded at the two hotels and not so much for what happened at CST or elsewhere in the city. So if Salman Khan said what he said, what was wrong?

I know this issue is going to upset a few of my Kashmiri friends, but this is something I’ve felt strongly about.

Point # 1: Why, every few years, do we undertake this entire charade about talks with Pakistan when we have no intention of handing over Kashmir or even talking about it? It seems a good way to waste public money and tell the world that we are doing something, when in reality we have no intention of doing anything at all. More important is the fact that the Pakistanis have no intention of talking peace with us and only wish to discuss Kashmir, because the existence of their political set up and the Army depends on it. Let go off Kashmir and they have no issue. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg story.

Point # 2: Do you care about Kashmir or what happens to it? Frankly, I don’t. Kashmir is today a gangrenous wound that continues to fester and because of which the country is bleeding massively. We have poured in crores of rupees into the State for the past 60 years. Our soldiers along with civilians die there every day. So, there are mistakes by the security forces too. What would you expect if you had to live with the fear that each day could be your last? You would get a jumpy too if you didn’t really know whether something that’s sticking out from under the shawl of the homegrown terrorist is a stick or an AK 56.

And what do the people from the State, who hate India, do? They set off bomb blasts and hold rallies in which they wave Pakistani flags and condemn the “Indian occupation of their State.” See what’s been happening there for the past few days…strikes, shutdown, terror strikes. Do we need all this? In my book they are a bunch of ingrates who should be left to fend for themselves. It’s time India too adopted the “you’re either with us or against us” policy against the Kashmiri who wants freedom from India. I have no sympathy for the Kashmiri who turns a gun against the soldier of the Indian Army or a civilian.

It’s a bit like my feelings for Bihar. I was born there, but I have very little sympathy for the people of that State – at least for those who still live there. They can blame the corrupt bureaucracy and even more corrupt political system, but why didn’t they do anything about it? And this is not something that’s been happening in the last decade or two. It has been this way since Independence. I should know… my father was a part of the political system there once upon a time. And he had the same opinion.

But, coming back to Kashmir, they live off India, they feed off India, and then they vilify India. So why not put the money to better use elsewhere? And screw all the sentimental crap about it being a heaven on earth. Right now, Kashmir is anything but heaven and will remain that way till kingdom come, unless one of the two things happen – we let go off Kashmir or Pakistan ceases to exist. I know which solution a lot of Indians would prefer, but I don’t see that happening.

And once we can administer some strong medicine to the gangrenous wound called Kashmir let’s turn our attention to the irritant called PoK. Call me a warmonger, but after the latest threat by the terror groups telling sportspersons not to travel to India for any of the events planned, I think it’s time to give it back with interest. I am no hawk, or someone in khakhi shorts waving a saffron flag, but I do think the time for talk and social niceties is over.

I believe we’ve turned the other cheek long enough, tolerated the violence, the bomb blasts, the Ajmal Kasabs and Lakhvis of this world long enough too. Let’s give them a taste of their own medicine. So what will happen? Collateral damage, more bomb blasts, more deaths on this side? So be it. If they can set off blasts in India and send in terror groups into Kashmir, why can’t we hit them, where it hurts the most? Can this government look beyond vote-bank politics for a change. And can they also stop this charade about talks? I don’t think anyone’s interested anymore…

Terror within our walls…

Posted: February 15, 2010 in Terrorism
Tags: , ,

So it finally reached our doorstep. All these years, even during the dark days around Indira Gandhi’s assassination and the Mumbai riots, Pune was peaceful. Every time there was a bomb blast anywhere in the country, we drew solace and prided ourselves on the fact that Pune did not react. But once the reports started pouring in about Pune being infested by ‘sleeper cells’, deep down a lot of us knew that it was just a matter of time, before terror hit us in the face.

The first thing I did when I heard about the blast at German Bakery was to call one of my students who frequented these spots on a weekend. I was relieved when she answered, “I’m on a bus back to the institute. I didn’t go there today.”

During the interviews and GDPAs for new admissions at SIMC the other day, I met one such youngster, who was looking to switch from his job at a leading firm to take up journalism. When I read that one of the victims of the blast had been employed with the same firm, I hunted down the visiting card the boy had given to me during the course of the interview. It wasn’t the same one.

Over thirty years ago, the Joshi-Abhyankar murders shook Pune like never before. No one really knew who was behind the murders and why they were happening, so the mystery led to many rumours and panic prevailed. Till the killers were caught, Pune was a ghost town after 7 pm. Theatres were running empty and so were the streets.

In the present case, at least we are aware, or at least we think we do. Let’s not get carried away by the rubbish that opportunistic politicians tell us about Intelligence failure etc. Our honourable Lok Sabha MP even called the incident an “event that was being coordinated by our State Minister for Home!” or some such nonsense. He’s the proverbial loose cannon, our man in Delhi, isn’t he? So it was an unintended faux pas, but, at least, it made me smile!

And PC was right. We can’t do anything about someone putting a bag filled with explosives in a crowded eatery and walking way. But, we can start protecting ourselves and others around us by not being too smart and opening the bags that someone left behind. And for heaven’s sake, let’s listen to what the police are trying to tell us, instead of thinking we know more than them. Even though there is nothing much we can do, except be more vigilant. Let’s at least do that.

What happened on Saturday was also a result of a little carelessness on our part, and this “don’t-tell-me- what-to-do” attitude that’s rampant today, be it at home or on the streets. It’s the little things like security checks at the multiplexes and malls, and even on the roads that get us all hot and bothered under the collar. I’ve seen how people get worked up and start honking, sometimes even shouting at security personnel checking vehicles, at the multiplexes. It’s time we showed a little patience.

On Sunday evening we were at one of the malls near our residence doing our monthly shopping. Outside, in the street there was the usual hustle and bustle, but inside, even at that hour, there was a sparse crowd. For a Sunday evening that was quite unusual, because the place is usually overflowing with customers. Is this the shape of things to come?