Sunday, 12 July 2020

A Warning From Chennai

Updated: May 24, 2014 2:00 pm

The need of the hour is to bury turf war and craft a united approach to internal security

They have struck again, this time in Chennai. The blasts at Central, a major railway hub and among Chennai’s most famous landmarks, which killed a young software engineer and injured 14 others, have exposed our vulnerability to repeated terror attacks. The victims, like in any other terror attack were ordinary men and women who were going about their life and ended up paying an extraordinary price. The story of the Bengaluru based IT professional Swathi Parachuri, who died in the blasts while on her way to visit her parents ahead of her marriage is particularly heart rending. That she was one of the thousands of Indians whose life was snuffed out at the hands of terrorists shows that terror has neither been stamped out nor contained in this country. Despite being a nation that is constantly in the shadow of terror attacks, the response of our governments, state and central is hardly reassuring. For the umpteenth time authorities have been caught napping and government’s claimed counter terrorism efforts have been exposed as no more than a sham. The one question we should be asking is this: What do we learn from these repeated strikes? Even as our politicians have been promising acting for decades, are we even prepared for the next strike?

One feels sad, angry and helpless as India has become an easy game for terrorists. The recurrance of serial bomb blasts and the government’s reaction to them do little to inspire confidence among the people. That terrorists still retain the capability to strike at will is a matter of concern. Even after the Mumbai terror attacks the security situation in our country doesn’t seem to have improved for the better. The fact that it happened at a major junction shows that lessons do not seem to have been learnt from the 2006 Mumbai rail blasts which resulted in a heavy toll in terms of both life and property. What is worse is that the US has criticised India and assessed it to be “severely affected” by and vulnerable to terror. Now that travel terror is becoming a reality, it leaves one wondering how many innocent lives should be lost for lack of a tough policy towards terrorism?

Responses to the incident so far have been predictable. Politicians have condemned the attack in their usual manner. Rhetoric is in good supply, as is resignation. The hurly burly is seen only on the first day after each bomb attack and fizzles out after a while. The government and the railways have most certainly given ex-gratia to the hapless victims. But the people don’t need compensation. They need complete protection from terror. They are fed up with routine expressions of sympathy and want concrete action on the ground. While the terrorists are able to carry out their nefarious designs at will, people get only tall promises from leaders. One wonders how long will this hogwash go on.

Unfortunately, the bomb blast at Chennai’s railway station has become an occassion for political parties to indulge in a game of one-upmanship. Political interests and vote-bank based electoral politics of the government seem to dominate national interests and especially security. Politicisation of terror poses the biggest hurdle to crafting a united approach to internal security. We sadly lack an unequivocal anti-terror policy. We have to admit that we have failed to put in place a vibrant intelligence mechanism to tackle terrorism. It is worth mentioning that after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre, the US woke up to the ground realities of terror and curbed it effectively. On the other hand appeasement, vote-bank politics, competative populism, no concrete action and lack of political will are the reasons for the continuing terror strikes in India. Our political leaders would do well to seriously synergise their efforts to strengthen the entire gamut of counter terror measures in the country. There should be a clear message that our security wouldn’t be compromised under any circumstances.

India’s fragile internal security is a concern and in need of a comprehensive review. It needs better coordination between central and state governments when it comes to sharing intelligence and security inputs. It is astonishing that India, despite being an easy target for terrorist activity has not put in place a National Command Centre to coordinate its counter terrorism activities and policies, as has been rightly noted by the Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram in the aftermath of Chennai blasts. It seems odd that the Tamil Nadu government has rejected the Centre’s offer to order a National Investigating Agency to probe the twin blasts. Centre state anti-terror operations are crucial as this doesn’t appear to be any local bomb blast incident and could probably involve “imported terrorism.” Therefore, it needs to be dealt with more expertise and the NIA could effectively coordinate its steps with the CB-CID to unravel the network behind the incident. Yet, states churlishly oppose the National Counter Terrorism Centre’s establishment in the name of federalism’. This, despite the urgent need for intelligence sharing and joint action.

At the end of the day what is required is an efficient intelligence gathering machinary and a police force that can act upon such intelligence with ruthless determination. It is time to stand upto extremism of all shades. Chennai shows again that political parties must recognise the need to delink national security from electoral considerations and demonstrate a strong resolve to fight against terror. The recent blasts were interpreted by many in India as a precursor to bigger strikes. With the rise in ceasefire violations it is expected that things could get hot again with the reemergence of Maulana Masood Azhar and Jaise-e-Mohammad on the Pak scene. This is all the more reason for setting up the long pending NCTC to streamline counter-terrorism operations in India.

By Sunita Vakil

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