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Terror attack: Key queries and what India Inc can do

December 31, 2008 11:59 IST

Like millions of Indians, and especially Mumbaikars, the last few days have been an emotional rollercoaster for me. The recent terror attacks in Mumbai have shaken all of us.

Even before the rescue operations ended, the analysis had begun. And rightly so.

The electronic media has been particularly active in talking to the common man as well as scholars to ask them their views on what should be done to ensure that attacks of this dastardly nature never happen again and, more importantly, how to hold accountable those individuals in power who allowed for this catastrophe to take place.

This note is my attempt to participate in the discussions and be a part of the solution.

Why is this attack different?

Every terrorist attack affects the economy of the country. But this one will have a bigger impact than any that we have witnessed as of yet. A few days after the attack, as I was walking to my office at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in suburban Mumbai, I noticed there was not even a single customer at the breakfast table at the otherwise extremely popular coffee shop.

Industries and businesses across the board were impacted with a host of investor meetings cancelled and countries all over the world taking stock and reassessing the risks involved with doing business in India.

In addition to the recent economic downturn, this incident will provide an additional negative impact.

Although it has not been mentioned categorically because of the political 'incorrectness' of the subject -- this attack is different for one more reason. So far, every other terror strike has impacted the Indian common man walking in crowded bazaars and commuting in local trains. This is the first attack on India's rich and famous -- the elite upper class which has never witnessed such a largescale attack on its own.

This time, they are not happy with platitudes. They want action.

And this may well prove to have a positive effect. This crisis can potentially have same impact on our governance as the 1991 crisis had on the economic reforms.

Why we hate our politicians

A few days ago, on one of the television programmes Congress politician Jayanti Natarajan posed the question as to why politicians were so vehemently hated. A few weeks ago, another Congress politician Salman Khursheed was heard lamenting the same subject. I do not think they are as naive as they appear to be, but since they have asked the question, an answer is in order.

Over time, our politicians have created a self-serving system where they protect their privileged position and where an honest and ethical individual has no real chance of breaking their stranglehold on power.

There are several examples of this to choose from. Some years ago when the Election Commission proposed that all candidates should declare the details of criminal cases pending against them and declare their net worth, the entire political class was united in opposing this. It was only with the Supreme Court's intervention that this was implemented.

The Supreme Court has also been advocating police reforms for a while now. What is the response of the political class as a whole cutting across all party lines?

What was the reaction of the Samajwadi Party and the Congress party to M C Sharma's martyrdom? What was the response of the Bharatiya Janata Party to the Anti-Terror Squad investigating the Malegaon blasts? When Raj Thackeray was dividing the nation and beating up the North Indians, what was the reaction of the Maharashtra government? Why was the BJP silent and did not even bother to condemn the MNS? When Tasleema Nasreen was attacked in Hyderabad and hounded out of India, what was the political class doing besides maintaining a diplomatic silence?

Why the current government faces greater culpability

Every debate on television regarding terrorism becomes a scoring match between the Congress and the BJP as to who was worse. I ask, "Does it really matter"? The current government has been in power for the last five years and it must learn to be accountable for its performance without referencing to what BJP did or did not do.

Till recently we had the most inept home minister we have ever seen in India. In response to every atrocity he doled out platitudes -- saying that we must look for the root cause and we must remain united.

But where was the statement on the action being taken? Even when there was gross failure on the part of our intelligence agencies, and our commandos reach Mumbai 10 hours after the attacks begin, he did not feel there was anything amiss. He actually resigned on moral grounds!

Similarly, we have witnessed truly uninspiring leadership from our prime minister. I do not remember any prime minister's address to the nation being as ignored as his was recently.

In a testament to the lacklustre leadership provided, his government does not even execute the death sentence of a terrorist who attacked the Indian Parliament, whose sentence has been upheld by even the Supreme Court (I hope no one terms the Supreme Court as communal!).

Why should we banish the 'root cause theorists'?

Democracy is a social contract wherein every citizen agrees that there will be no system of private revenge. Despite this basic premise, we witness terrorism being justified on real or imagined root causes.

For Gujarat rioters, the Godhra carnage was the root cause, for the subsequent long list of terror acts, Gujarat was the root cause; and for the Malegaon episode, strikes on Sankatmochan and Rugveer temples will probably be the root cause.

I am not worried about the terrorists speaking this language of 'cause and effect', that is how they sell their wares. I am more concerned about when the Union home minister, leading politicians and so called 'civil society activists' speak this language. I am worried when the media gives them such visible platforms to spread this message.

We should banish the 'root cause theory' and, more importantly, its practitioners. Violence and terrorism cannot be justified on any pretext. This is not to say that we should not take their suggestions for improving our mechanisms for handling grievances, after all this is the promise of a vibrant democracy such as ours.

But the eternal question of the 'boundaries' within democracy concerning free speech need to be debated on an urgent basis.

What can we do?

Tackling terrorism is a complex issue and will require responses at several levels. It is the totality of response which will make the difference.

Police reforms

This is the single biggest issue that needs to be addressed and, unfortunately, not many people are talking about it. The police force in India is an instrument of political expediency.

The level of interference and corruption in the police is well known and, in most cases, taken for granted. Such a corrupt force cannot execute tasks efficiently on the ground. We have allowed this institution to be almost completely destroyed and therefore it has to be built up again from ground zero.

If we want to save India, the police force will have to be independent from any political interference. The Supreme Court has been trying to push these reforms but all our political parties are united in opposing it.

Just consider why the law and order in a state is good during the period when the Election Commission's code of conduct is in force. A police force which allows petty crime will also allow organised crime, which will occasionally, if not consistently, result in lapses on national security.

Make no mistake. These issues are interrelated; a case in point being the story of the custom officer who allowed smuggling of RDX in the country in 1993.

The police reforms will have many elements: First of which is to give the police administrative and financial independence from the political class, to separate policing functions from crime investigation and intelligence gathering, and to set up a federal investigation agency.

Police reforms will be the stickiest issue for our political class. We will have to struggle hard to achieve this, but without it there will be no lasting solution.

Reinvent our laws and judicial system

Our legal system needs to be overhauled. Shekar Gupta of Indian Express in a TV interview pointed out that if a terrorist who was caught alive in Mumbai was arrested in Jaipur; he would have to be released on bail after 30 days.

Arun Jaitley pointed out that had the special terror law not been there, even Rajiv Gandhi's assassins could not have been punished. Obviously something is amiss.

Let's begin with an even more glaring issue. We currently do not have an explicit law which makes eulogising, encouraging or justifying terrorism a crime. Sometime ago a minister in the Samajwadi Party government in Uttar Pradesh offered a reward of Rs 51 crore (Rs 5.1 million) to anyone who would kill Danish cartoonists. This was a clear incitement of terrorism. But the UP government took no action.

Dismantle the terror factories

In India (and elsewhere in our neighborhood), we have factories which radicalise youth. They eulogise, support or justify terrorism often on the basis of real or imagined 'root causes'. These factories must be dismantled.

For the terror factories in Pakistan, we must use all our economic and geopolitical clout to get them dismantled. But in the end if that does not work, we should take overt or covert action to destroy them.

Leverage technology and processes

Our police force is grossly under-equipped and under-trained. Did the ATS look properly equipped and trained to handle the threat? The NSG commandos took over 10 hours to arrive. The cable in the two hotels relayed the action for a long time. There is an endless list of gaffes and process failure.

Our technology and processes will have to proactively evaluate evolving threats. We are dealing with a determined enemy. The next attack could be different. We need to learn and have a contingency plan for the same.

India Inc can immensely contribute in this area. Indian managers at McKinsey, BCG, Hindustan Unilever, TCS, etc. can write the processes, help train our people. India is an IT superpower. Companies like Infosys and TCS can help develop a technology strategy for the nation's security.

There are so many patriotic Indians who are keen to see this threat eliminated who will help contribute to this campaign.

Celebrate our heroes

We must commemorate our heroes who have laid down their lives tackling terrorism. The men who have lost their lives saving us should always be remembered.

Our martyrs' families should be taken care of financially. Mumbai and the larger civil society of India can create a fund for this purpose.

Let Hemant Karkare's wife, Sandeep Unnikrishnan's parents and Gajendra Singh's children feel that this nation is eternally grateful to them.

This is a huge agenda. It takes time to build the institutions. But many of the things can be done quite fast; almost immediately. In this crisis lies our opportunity to rebuild this nation.

The author is Partner, India Value Fund.

Pramod Kabra