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Did Chidambaram convince us?

September 14, 2011 16:38 IST

Till the time there is an efficient leadership in place, it would be difficult to elicit popular support for the government's moves in fighting terror. However, I am still convinced that P Chidambaram is our best bet as home minister, says Bibhu Prasad Routray.

Union Home Minister P Chidambaram was at his explaining best on September 9. He told the country how the effort of countering terror is a protracted one and how the capacity among the agencies and forces to prevent terror attacks would take time to build.

Did he convince anybody with his statement? Below is a point by point critique of what he said and why he was unpersuasive, to say the least.

The Home Minister: There is no way one agency can handle internal intelligence and external intelligence, policing, counter-terrorism. India needs multiple agencies and it is the 'art of leadership to bring all organisations together and make them work together.'

Critique: Theoretically perfect. But the absence of such leadership and coordination being a fact on the ground, is the approach of adding more and more institutions a good idea or do we focus more on developing leadership? Does the MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) have a programme of grooming leaders in the agencies and the force structures?

The Home Minister: It would take time to raise the counter-terrorism capacity that could meet the challenge posed by terrorism but added that India's capacity had reached modest levels since the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.

Critique: Raising the capacity is a process in continuum. There shall never be a day when the MHA can declare 'We possess all the capacity we desire.' But it is important that the gradual (call it slow, if you please) augmentation of capacity is demonstrated in some form as it takes place. The repeated failures of the agencies to crack the terror attack cases do not necessarily point at an improvement.

The Home Minister: The country's sheer size, coupled with decades of 'accumulated neglect', meant that building sufficient capacity would take time. 'Besides, the presence of home grown terror meant that the government could no longer just point fingers across the border. There are Indian modules,' he said.

Critique: Agreed in principle. However, home grown terror and its growth would require the Intelligence Bureau (IB) to take lead role. The vacancies in the National Investigative Agency (NIA), a relatively new organisation can be explained.

But how does one justify over 9,000 vacancies in the IB, which is considered by some accounts as the oldest intelligence agency in the world? Is it correct to assume that the constitution of the new agencies is taking the focus away from the existing ones?

The Home Minister: Lakhs of people were being recruited to the central paramilitary and state police forces over the last two years.

Critique: True. Paramilitary has emerged as the largest employment avenue for the unemployed in the country and would remain so for many years in the future. However, has the mere increase in numbers added to the anti-terror capacities of the country?

To what extent has the MHA been able to prevent dilution in the professionalism of the forces? For example, why were the COBRA battalions, a specialised anti-Naxal force deployed in the state elections in Assam earlier in the year?

The Home Minister: There is no one who can say that from now, there will be no terror attack. What we can do, are doing and will do... is to build capacity, brick by brick so that we are in a position to prevent... and neutralise a terror attack.

Critique: True. However, if the MHA takes credit for no terror attack for a specific duration of time, it cannot wish away criticism in the event of one happening.

Earlier in the year, the home minister mentioned during a media interview, 'Since we haven't had a major terror attack, we have reasons to believe that our policies are working.'

Can we turn around the argument in the event of the Mumbai and Delhi attacks?

The Home Minister: 'There is not a day that passes that we are not adding a brick to our security system and to our security architecture,' he said, pointing that the establishment dealt with terrorist, Naxal or insurgent threats from across the country.

Critique: The question is whether these small steps are taking the country towards its identified goal of capacity building, or are these steps in isolation? Is the country relying too much on a hit and trial method rather then learning from the past experience?

The Home Minister: Everyone -- and not just the policemen who worked in difficult conditions -- had to chip in, right from the neighbourhood security guard to people who needed to be more disciplined.

Critique: People would rally behind a successful and sincere policy and not behind one they feel has not worked. Chidambaram spoke of the art of leadership earlier. Till the time, there is a perceptible and efficient leadership in place, it would be difficult to elicit popular support behind government's moves.

How will the government claim sincerity when it has not been able to proceed adequately in establishing NATGRID and NCTC, the institutions it described as vital for national security?

The minister said the three major terror attacks -- the German bakery blast in Pune in 2010, the Mumbai serial blasts in July this year and the Delhi high court blast -- are 'blots'. But there have been blots on the government earlier too, he added.

Critique: Is blaming past failures for the present ones a good technique of convincing the country? Certainly not.

Chidambaram blamed the Delhi public works department for not installing CCTV cameras in the high court.

Critique: B Raman had this to say in reaction on his Twitter Page: 'A senior minister is expected to exercise his authority and have his orders complied with.'

At the end, however, I am still convinced that Chidambaram is our best bet as home minister. The criticism he attracts is inherently linked to the high expectations he has generated.

Bibhu Prasad Routray is an independent analyst who served as a deputy director in the National Security Council Secretariat, New Delhi.

Bibhu Prasad Routray