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Home > India > News > Columnists > Sheela Bhatt

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People's anger and a crumbling spy agency

December 02, 2008

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Six nights after the Mumbai terror attacks [Images] there are two distinct waves visible in India.

One is the tsunami of emotions over the blasts in Mumbai. Newspaper reports and television channels are reporting the rich and powerful, poor and faceless people's anger, anguish and fury against government's massive failure on all fronts that has resulted in this attack.

People don't need pundits to tell them that the Indian Navy failed to monitor the Arabian Sea. The Coast Guard were slack or were bought out while patrolling.

In Maharashtra, the local police didn't heed two specific warnings that had come from the Centre. The Intelligence Bureau headquarters in Chankyapuri in New Delhi [Images] failed to weigh the intelligence of possible attacks. They should have added value to the information through incisive analysis so that it is taken seriously by the states. When National Security Advisor M K Narayanan was struggling to get the Indo-US nuclear deal through at Vienna [Images] in September these specific warnings had come stating the serious risk facing hotels in Mumbai. As Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi [Images] says, the IB's information is like the Weather Bureau warnings.

Unfortunately, security was slack in the hotels in Mumbai even after receiving clear calls. Ratan Tata's interview to CNN shockingly gives us clues about what was wrong with the security at Taj Hotel [Images] even after getting the warnings, officially.

If you watch and read the surge of emotions one thought clearly emerges, that people are frustrated, desperate and want things to change. They want to bury the chalta hai attitude. They want politicians to be accountable and the most important message of all those interviews of survivors and victims' relatives is that the people of India want safety. They don't want to die cheap. The fury is directed against the government in power at the centre and in Maharashtra. But, that's not all. People were really, really fuming, and when Modi flew down to Mumbai for a television appearance and announced the award of Rs 1 crore for the slain police officers, people found it disgusting.

"What was the need to start politics before the operation is over? If he really cares for policemen, why can't he give money without making political capital out of it?" a man standing outside the Trident Hotel asked.

Even the populist Modi is the target of people's ire.

But in New Delhi things don't move riding on Mumbai's emotions.

Before debating what all can be done post the Mumbai terror attacks, one must remember that this government is in power for less than four months. Just 100 odd days. Do you really believe that people in power in New Delhi will take note of Mumbai's anguish and not bring in electoral politics while responding to the terrorist attacks? Before talking about what the new Home Minister P Chidambaram and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee can do, let us talk about intelligence failure.

Let us talk of the Reasearch and Analysis Wing (India's external intelligence agency), first.

Just a week before the attack, Nisha Bhatia, a disgruntled RAW employee, threatened to commit suicide by jumping from the terrace of the agency's headquarters. The entire building had to be secured and it created a major panic.

India's premier intelligence agency has been in a coma for many months and neither the Prime Minister's Office nor the National Security Advisor's office have any solution-oriented approach. If RAW was built in the last 35 plus years, it has crumbled in the last 35 months.

It is out in the open and for everybody to see how one employee's dissent has taken an enormous amount of time of its top brass and staff -- who are supposed to spy and do brainstorming analysis on the geopolitical strategies of world powers.

Our spies are bogged down on the HRD issue of an employee for the last many weeks. RAW's senior officers have no clue how to handle her or cool her down. The country can neither laugh nor cry over the issue.

Since the last one year many stories have been leaked about RAW to an obscure web site. Never before has so much muck been printed against the country's intelligence agency without any attempt to stop it. Can't RAW really fix these leaks?

RAW is so faction-ridden that senior officers do not normally take their juniors to important meetings. Many are not on talking terms.

More importantly, Ashok Chatuvedi, secretary in charge of RAW, is retiring in February. He wants Sanjiv Tripathi, an IPS officer, to take over from him. Tripathi is the son-in-law of former RAW chief G S Vajpayee. Rana Bannerji, number three currently, is an acknowledged Pakistan expert and an IAS officer from the Assam cadre. In spite of his expertise he is supposed to be far behind in the race because the senior most officer B V Kumar is a Malayali. Most people believe that in the current regime, Malayalis are a favoured lot. So RAW's only Pakistan expert Bannerji is likely to resign if anybody is thrust upon from outside or if Kumar takes over. Kumar is known to be quite a decent man. But he reportedly doesn't have popular backing within the organisation since he is considered to be too sober to be chief.

As a result Narayanan could also consider a senior officer of IB who is also an expert on terrorism to lead RAW. The decision is likely to come within one month, so you can imagine that the babus at RAW are engaged in calculating the multiple impact of a new incoming chief more than anything else.

If an outsider comes in, even that would be resented. In this country even a sarpanch can't be imposed from the outside.

Narayanan is getting a bad name from RAW officers for step-motherly treatment. But, then, talent is not known a virtue in RAW these days, say Narayanan's defenders. RAW is doomed for the time being whoever becomes its boss.

To be concluded


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