Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Mumbai's terror

The dark events of November 2008 are not directly related to the theme of this blog, but we are compelled to speak up against this outrage. Our country’s intellectuals would certainly have thought of several measures to pre-empt such strikes, but here are a few random suggestions which come to mind:
1. Our borders seem so porous that sneaking across seems ridiculously easy. I’m sure this porosity works both ways, so why not send covert operatives across to target terrorist camps surgically and destroy them? Create a crack force, furnish them with the necessary forged papers, and train them to disappear after the attacks, much like what the terrorists do. Declaring a war is pointless, and can incur huge casualties on both sides, and only the arms dealers and other commercial interests will profit. Our war on terror needs to be played using the same ground rules of terrorism, so that our losses are miniscule, and the gains immense.
2. Choke the fidayeen by choking their local logistics – the terrorists don’t mind dying, but the people who house, feed and transport them do. Reserve the death penalty for such supporters, and hang them (preferably in public) to instil fear in potential supporters.
3. Terrorists and their supporters on death row can be made to compensate for lives taken by harvesting their organs before execution – several lives may be saved with their kidneys, heart, liver, corneas, skin, etc. If their families object, tell them they are morally responsible for the terror deaths, and that they are welcome to trade places in the organ donation programme.
4. Most terror attacks see to involve Islamic militants, who perpetrate these crimes in the name of jihad, and as a guaranteed ticket to Jannat (heaven). Can the highest religious authority in the country, such as the main Imam in India, not publicly denounce these criminals, and issue a fatwa or religious decree that they will not ascend to ‘heaven’?
5. Terrorists seem to be still very fond of their families, and to ensure that their kith and kin get financial support after the suicide attacks. Can we not detain their family members and use them as leverage against the terrorists – put them up on national television, ask them to make an appeal to their son/brother/ward, ask them to surrender as they are fearful of their lives? Yes, they may be innocent, but their appeals could save hundreds of other innocents who may get killed/maimed in terror attacks.

B. CORRUPTION at all levels is a great ally of terror – just pay money to touts to get a birth certificate, ration card or election ID card, all these being documents which can help a terrorist pass off as a common citizen. Similarly, you could get a huge consignment of RDX through the legitimate channels, and the right incentives can ensure that the Customs people look the other way. Corruption at ministerial levels ensures that substandard armaments and equipment gets procured, compromising our security forces. A bullet went through Mr Kamte’s helmet, remember?


Why do our politicians need security? I don’t remember the Mahatma ever having a bodyguard, though he was a leader of immense stature. Yes, he did get shot, but people in public life need to accept attacks and death as an occupational hazard, as it is with our brave soldiers. If they don’t have the balls for that, let them relinquish their posts. Don’t bask in the glory of people-funded security – hire your own, as you have enough money to do that (check their balance sheets submitted to the Election Commission – our leaders are truly rich, even by the figures they declare!). This will free at least 50 % of security forces for their actual duty, i.e. that of protecting the country and her citizens.

D. ELECTORAL REFORMS are unacceptable to all political parties, because the existing system serves their interests well. Therefore, it will be an uphill task, and the likes of a Seshan are required in the Election Commission to change the ground rules. Here are some thoughts -
a. It is truly wonderful that we have a system of universal franchise, i.e. one vote per person, irrespective of their age, sex, education, social status, etc. Let’s pause to think here for a moment – has this ensured that good people get elected to rule us? NO!
This is because an educated, thinking voter is hugely outnumbered by the illiterate masses that are recruited in hordes to cast their votes by their local goons. For example, in Mumbai, the average middle-class voter is totally irrelevant in the electoral process, as the slum votes make the ‘leaders’. Slumlords use the carrot-and-stick approach to get voters to turn up and cast votes as directed. Money exchanges hands, and thinly veiled threats of withdrawing essentials such as water connections, or simply the roof over their heads, ensures that they do not default. Is it any surprise, then, that the average flat-dweller rarely gets a glimpse of the local candidate, as they are busy in door-to-door campaigns in their slums?
b. The way out? Well, at least in Mumbai, which is our financial hub, let’s have differential weightage for each vote. A tax-paying, educated voter should have more leverage over the slum-dweller who pays no taxes, survives on illegal land, illegal dwellings, and illegal water and electric connections. Tax-payers can be rewarded on a slab basis, i.e. the more tax you pay, the greater number of votes you are entitled to. A graduate or post-graduate gets more voting power than an illiterate/semi-literate voter. As a boost to the national population policy, debar those who have more than 2 children from contesting elections, or from voting in them. Reward those with one child or none with greater voting power.
c. Can we not have bare minimum standards for our politicians who wish to contest elections? Even a peon or clerk has to satisfy educational criteria to apply for a post. Our leaders need to have at least a graduate degree (earned, not forged), and an impeccable social record. Even a shadow of suspicion regarding involvement in a crime should debar them, leave alone the current scenario where several of them have criminal records as long as the arms of the law.
d. What about a probation period for all elected candidates, wherein they deliver good performance, or relinquish their seats for non-performance? In any job, that is the norm, so why should it be different for political jobs? The appraisals can be conducted by a non-political committee of eminent persons and/or an audit firm who evaluate them on the basis of transparent criteria – these criteria, in fact, can become a road map for any politician wishing to do his or her job well.


Why did the NSG perform their task brilliantly ? They have great training and equipment, and most importantly, they are unhindered to a greater degree from political pressures. Can our police forces not do likewise?
They need to become an independent central body, taking decisions based solely upon security considerations, and not out of fear of reprisals from the various ministers and ministries. Officers should have tenures of at least three years to enable them to do their jobs well, and no transfers should be effected prior to that, save in exceptional conditions. All posts need to be filled, and funding for the police should be a part of our defence budget (war, after all, is now in our cities too, not only at our borders).
A local state force can assist this central police in local liaisons and investigations, and can do non-critical stuff like ‘bandobust’ for rallies, processions, politicians’ visits, sports events and such.


I am a strong advocate of social equity, but reservations for the underprivileged cannot be carried to absurd levels where it endangers lives.
Give the traditionally oppressed sections support in obtaining good education, and give them economic support, but keep reservations out of jobs – a job well done needs capable people, not those who get employment through reservations. A doctor, architect, policeman, fire fighter, motorman, pilot, nuclear scientist and bureaucrat – all of them need to be capable, as they can make life-or-death decisions that can affect hundreds or thousands of people. Reserving jobs for candidates only on the basis of their caste amounts to being callous towards human lives – just another instance of how political expediency rules over the common weal.

Well, there is an adverse fallout of the terror attacks on the environment too – politicians of every fold have felt the need to express their sympathy and condole the deaths of the brave officers who died in the terror attacks. Some posters even have the mugs of the politicians grinning down at you, cheek-by-jowl with the pictures of the dead officers. Every street corner and other available space has been hijacked, and reams and reams of ‘flex’, a vinyl material, have been used to carry these messages. What happens to this non-biodegradable junk after a few days is anybody’s guess.