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Lesson from the Mumbai Attack

By projecting that Pakistan is the source of our troubles it is implied that, but for that country's support for terrorism, things would be hunky-dory. Such an approach diverts attention from looking at where the Indian state has gone wrong. There is a dire need to get away from the obsessive focus on Pakistan and begin to look inwards in order to rectify wrongs which exist - gross injustices perpetrated against our own people.


current stand-off has raised the stakes for Lesson from the Mumbai Attack both India and Pakistan and, with or without another attack, can precipitate matters towards a free fight. Independent of Gautam Navlakha what Pakistan does, or chooses not to do,

By projecting that Pakistan is the source of our troubles it is implied that, but for that country’s support for terrorism, things would be hunky-dory. Such an approach diverts attention from looking at where the Indian state has gone wrong. There is a dire need to get away from the obsessive focus on Pakistan and begin to look inwards in order to rectify wrongs which exist – gross injustices perpetrated against our own people.


Economic & Political Weekly

march 14, 2009

ore than three months after the Mumbai attack, focus remains on Islamabad’s dilatory tactics and frustration at getting the Pakistani government to cooperate in investigating the possible links and support network of the armed gunmen. Granted that the audacious commando style operation, attacking several places simultaneously, represents a paradigm shift in the conduct of low-intensity urban warfare. The planning, training, financing and logistics involved suggest that swathes of Pakistani territory have become captive of non-state actors who operate virtually at will, with or without the connivance of the Pakistani authorities. Although multiple centres of power, jostling for pre-eminence, are said to be a complicating factor, there appears to be consensus among the various power centres to drag the investigation, turning it into an Indo-Pak problem and using it to gain some leeway in negotiations with the US in the war against the Taliban and Al Qaida on its western frontier, unmindful of its impact on relations with India or on its own society. The Pakistani military has claimed that it cannot spare forces to r estore the state’s authority in the Swat r egion because of tensions with India on its eastern borders. This is a high risk p olicy to link tensions with India to a llow the Taliban to consolidate itself in the Swat region and to use the Mumbai a ttack investigations to extract some gains vis-a-vis India.

Since war as an option was ruled out by New Delhi,1 and it lacks leverage over I slamabad, few options are available to the Indian government. Options have further narrowed by the latter choosing to put pressure on Pakistani civil society by obstructing people-to-people contacts. This is compounded by competitive jingoism between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress over Pakistan and terrorism as the country nears its 15th parliamentary elections. In this sense, the

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obsessive concern has its negative fallout. By projecting that Pakistan is the source of our troubles it is implied that, but for Pakistan’s support for terrorism, things would be hunky-dory or, that without Pakistan’s cooperation, the Indian state is helpless to prevent terror attacks. Such an approach diverts attention from looking at where the Indian state has gone wrong, empowers chauvinists, and enables the authorities to favour harsh laws and augmentation of military resources, without too many questions being asked.2 In other words, as the Pakistani people grapple with their establishment, we in India need to focus on ours.

Preparedness or Augmentation

To believe that the security apparatus will perform better when it is armed with harsh laws and simultaneously, scarce resources are diverted to buy modern weapons and augment manpower, is a colossal misrepresentation of facts. By abbreviating constitutional freedoms or recruiting more security personnel, and freeing them from accountability, it is not possible to prevent mass murders. Consider the following facts. The attack by armed gunmen on 26 November last year could have been prevented by the Indian navy, the coast guard and the Mumbai police with the existing resources at their command, failing which, had not security been lowered at the hotels, due to misappraisal by the state police, the gunmen could have met some resistance, and their entry could have been delayed. Even if all this had failed, the 58-hour long stand-off could have been cut short, if commandos had not arrived 12 hours later, due to unavailability of a plane at Delhi to ferry the commandos, or if they did not have to wait, for more than an hour at the Mumbai airport, for a bus to take them to the scene of the crime. Commando operations could have been made relatively easier, if they had a ccess to maps/drawings of the buildings, which further complicated the operations.


All this did not require extraordinary laws or sophisticated weaponry, but preparedness, since India has been insisting that it has been subjected to terrorism since the 1980s. Surely three decades is long enough to get our act together.

For instance, a lot has been written about the need for sophisticated weaponry and commando-style training for the police force. But little focus has been placed on something as basic as vacant posts of 1,13,779 constables in the police force across the country. Constables are the backbone of beat policing, important for law and order and for gathering h uman intelligence. However, there has been an inbuilt bias in favour of armed police at the expense of civil police.3 Therefore, filling these vacancies is one thing. But to use the Mumbai attack to justify raising 125 additional battalions of central paramilitary formations, i e, recruitment of 1.4 lakh personnel over the next two to three years, including four battalions for Natio nal Security Guards (NSG) commandos, or massive purchase of weapons, is, quite simply, “barking up the wrong tree”.4 An NSG commando force of 7,500 personnel is not a small force. But 1,700 commandos, or onefourth of the strength, are engaged in static VIP duty. The presence of four more NSG battalions will not, by itself, bring about a quick response.5 After all, on 24 December 1999, during the hijacking of IC-814, the NSG commandos could not reach Amritsar airport on time because, reportedly, they were caught in a traffic jam! In 2008, in Mumbai, the problem was non-availability of transportation. In both cases it was the lethargic response or unpreparedness of the administration which lay behind the delay.

Yet, we are expected to believe that we are short of security personnel and of m ilitary hardware despite having spent, between 2001-02 and 2006-07, no less than Rs 27,80,491 crore on military a ugmentation.6 It is also argued that p olice force must be armed with automatic weapons and that .303 rifles are outdated. This is open to question because armed police formations and individual armed gunmen cannot be compared. R egular training of police personnel and quick issuance of weapons from armoury during crisis cannot be substituted by p urchasing lethal weapons. Besides, i ssuing police force Kalashnikovs can cause greater harm than good in crowded urban locations. Furthermore, such c ommando-style encounters are not the norm when mass murderers have used a range of material, from Kalashnikovs, bombs, swords, trishuls, lathis, pen knives, etc. It is also worth noting that it is .303 carrying and baton-wielding M umbai constables who managed to overpower Ajmal Kasab, thereby enabling Mumbai crime branch sleuths to put t ogether a credible case.

Are Harsh Laws the Answer?

Take the next argument – that “terrorism” is a crime which requires moving away from normal criminal legal provisions and diluting due process. But “terrorists” do not belong to a different species, which can be singled out. It is also a known fact that by relaxing procedures and lowering the threshold for collection of evidence, an innocent can get implicated and the real culprit escape justice. There are few occasions when a person is arrested r ed-handed from the scene of the crime. In most cases, people are picked up as “suspects” and investigators then try to establish their connection with the crime. The case of Irshad Ali (The Times of India, 13 September 2007) also shows that despite the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) exonerating him and indicting the Special Cell of the Delhi police for preparing a false case with fake recovery of RDX, the victim continues to languish in jail and the Special Cell refuses to admit its wrongdoing. Verily, the wheels of justice grind painfully slow even when they begin to roll. Indeed, the CBI officer who investigated this case on the Delhi High Court’s direction recently complained that he was being threatened by personnel of the Special Cell! This being the state of affairs in the capital city of Delhi, then, when the law turns liberal jurisprudence on its head, as the new set of amendments to Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (especially Section 43) does, by placing

Krishna Raj Memorial Scholarships 2008-09

The third annual Krishna Raj Memorial Scholarships instituted in memory of the weekly’s distinguished editor of 35 years have been awarded.

The Sameeksha Trust has established three sets of scholarships at different levels of education – at a school, undergraduate college and postgraduate institution. The scholarships have been designed for award in either the educational institutions Krishna Raj attended or in the city (Mumbai) where he spent all his professional life.

NSSKPT High School, Ottappalam, Kerala

Four scholarships, for two girls and two boys have been awarded in the school where Krishna Raj studied for a few years. The scholarships cover tuition fees, uniforms, books and special coaching. In 2008-09, the scholarships have been awarded to Vishnu C K and Bhageeshma K D (VIIIth standard) and Sarika P A, Sreejith P S (Xth standard).

SNDT College for Women, Mumbai

Two scholarships have been awarded to adivasi students in the social sciences stream of the BA course. The scholarship cover tuition and examination fees and boarding and lodging expenses in the college hostel. In 2008-09 the scholarships have been awarded to Ruke Veena Vijayanand (Second Year BA Geography) and Sneha Ramesh Yadav (Third Year BA Economics).

Delhi School of Economics

The aim of the Krishna Raj Summer/Internship Programme is to enable university students to participate in field surveys and related activities around issues that have social relevance.

Four teams of 25 university students led by the faculty of the Delhi School of Economics conducted a field survey in December 2008 in collaboration with the Ministry of Rural Development, in Allahabad (UP) and Ranchi (Jharkhand) districts on bank payments of NREGA wages reaching the workers in various panchayats.

march 14, 2009 vol xliv no 11


the onus of proving innocence on the accused, because his/her fingerprints were found at the scene of the crime or that weapons were recovered from him/her, then it ignores the reality that it is perfectly possible in India to plant evidence or foist false cases against someone by virtue of the fact that the person is Muslim, dalit, adivasi or Naxalite.

Conversely, police, prosecutors and the lower judiciary provide greater latitude to suspected mass murderers who are H indus, as is evident from the recent case of Gujarat minister Maya Kodnani and Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Jayant P atel who evaded summons issued by the Supreme Court appointed Special Investigation Team and managed to get anticipatory bail despite being implicated in the Naroda Patiya mass murder. It is worth noting that the Godhra accused have yet to get bail despite the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) being revoked against them. In other words, we cannot be blind to the fact that, in India, draconian laws, such as the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), POTA, Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) or Chapter VI of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) on offences against the State, have been used, selectively and deliberately, to target ethnic communities and the underclass. Besides, when the law defines unlawful acts and terrorism vaguely or when it proscribes political ideologies, thereby turning criminal what is otherwise legitimate, then the law becomes intrinsically unjust and ends up causing great harm, as Binayak Sen and Arun Ferreira’s cases so well illustrate. Finally, the fact that such laws exclude state agencies from its p urview, assuming that they cannot be guilty of carrying out acts of mass murder or of conniving in such acts carried out by non-state actors, because they are said to be acting in “good faith”, it ends up subverting the criminal justice system. The truth is that discrimination and persecution beget resentment and nurture a sense of revenge.

Therefore, we need to remind ourselves that the Pakistani state is not unique i nsofar as its patronage of “majoritarian” communal-fascist groups is concerned. Or else how diligent and fair has the Indian state been in going after mass murderers

Economic & Political Weekly

march 14, 2009

when they have single-mindedly focused on Muslims as suspects behind almost all such incidents, prior to the Malegaon bomb blast in 2008? What stopped the investigating and intelligence agencies from even entertaining the likely involvement of Hindu fascists in bomb blasts such as in the incidents of the Samjhauta Express (February 2007), Mecca Masjid (May 2007) and Ajmer Sharief (October 2007)? The cases filed against the Babri Masjid demolition accused move at an excruciatingly slow pace whereas little movement is seen on the suspects who carried out the anti-Muslim carnages in Mumbai and elsewhere. In Gujarat, investigation/prosecution into the anti-Muslim carnage of 2002 began only because of a stubborn campaign by concerned social activists. Such is the official bias that the largest p rivate militia in the country, Bajrang Dal and its various clones operate with impunity. They can rape, molest, bomb, plunder, abuse, blackmail, and assault, all in the name of religion/cultural nationalism, and rarely feel the weight of law against them.

Moreover, if Mumbai attack stands out because of the fact that the armed gunmen happened to be Pakistanis, then where do we place the Samjhauta Express blast (February 2007) in which 64 out of 68 were Pakistanis, including six minors, killed on Indian soil? In the Samjhauta E xpress blast case, the Haryana police was convinced about involvement of groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and the Indian authorities formally asked Pakistan to search for a person whom the Haryana p olice investigators were looking for. After an initial flurry of activity and leaks about the leads, the trail turned cold. This is d espite the fact that, in 2000, Hindu f ascists had threatened to disrupt train services between India and Pakistan. Also, two men whose sketches were released by Haryana police, according to witnesses, spoke Hindi. They had argued with the railway police when they were pulled up for entering the train without tickets, and had claimed that they wanted to go to Ahmedabad, but then got off the train just 15 minutes before the blast, as the train slowed down, for some inexplicable r eason, just before Panipat. And yet, not once, during the entire investigation, or

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subsequently, when investigators got n owhere, did the police or the central agencies e ntertain the likely involvement of some Hindu fanatic group in the crime, that is, until the Malegaon 2008 probe began in earnest, and some leads pointed towards the likely involvement of Hindu fanatics. After the Mumbai attack, the probe into Samjhauta Express train blast, as well as the Mecca Masjid and Ajmer Sharief cases, has stalled. Why?

The point is not to deny the presence of fanatics among minorities in India or to whitewash the crimes of the Pakistanbased LeT, but to stress that in India the threat posed by Hindu fanatics multiplies many times over, because it enjoys the protection of the state. The prosecutors do not invoke treason and sedition laws against them as the Malegaon (2008) chargesheet reveals. Unlike India’s m inorities and underclass, Hindu fanatics never face the threat of proscription nor are they subjected to harsh procedures. Their horrible acts do not make them p ariahs for the mainstream media; rather the latter goes out of its way to allow them time and space to explain themselves, a privilege rarely extended to minority groups such as Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) or even the underclass organisations such as Naxalites, or insurgents from Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and the northeast. Is it that Hindus are considered mere “overzealous nationalists”? How dissimilar is this from Pakistani claims that M uslim groups like the Taliban and the LeT are “misguided patriots”?

Sweeping rhetoric, therefore, undercuts the Indian state’s own credibility. Just as fact and fiction have been mixed up often by the Indian state and media, it is not s urprising that Pakistan too acts in the same vein.

Root Causes

This brings me to the final point. The Mumbai attack points towards drawing a clear line between attacks linked to c auses which are rooted inside the country, and those that are carried out by groups located outside, using these as a cover for their own myopic world view. It is perverse to argue that because the I ndian state brutalises people say in J&K, therefore, Pakistan-based LeT’s mass


m urders flow from that action. Just as r evolution cannot be exported neither can right to resist oppression become an exportable commodity. It is equally perverse to claim that, because Pakistan allows LeT to operate freely and carry out its vicious campaign against non-Muslims, therefore, Indian Muslims or visiting Pakistanis should be made to suffer, as Hindutva groups believe. People, who suffer brutalisation at the hands of security forces, such as in J&K, have the inalienable right to offer resistance, but even they cannot target civilians. Unfortunately, it is one thing to espouse this, quite another matter for it to be followed. The reason is that those who are motivated by hatred will continue to practise what they preach and they clutch at excuses, which can keep shifting. It is thus that root causes behind internal conflicts and simmering discontent among sections of our own people get linked with such acts as the Mumbai attack. The LeT, which carried out the attack in Mumbai, in the email sent under the name of D eccan Mujahedeen, justified the massacre in order to avenge injustices perpetrated on the Muslim community in I ndia since 1947 (The Indian Express, 28 November 2009).

However much they offend our sensibilities, or however totally hypocritical such claims sound when made by mass murderers, the fact is that Indian society has suffered from gross injustices perpetrated against our own people. One of the most flagrant forms of these is the bias and prejudice practised by the state and its pavlovian recourse to military suppression when confronted by separatism or r ebellion of the marginalised people. C onsequently, the umbilical ties between the I ndian state and the Hindutva groups have to be addressed and we must have the courage to search for democratic r esolutions of internal conflicts. This is within the grasp of the Indian state and also its constitutional obligation. Providing speedy justice to the victims of all h einous crimes robs hate mongers and mass murderers of their raison d’être and blunts their capacity to mobilise support and inflict harm. Thus, for all the pain it has caused, the Mumbai attack ought to become an occasion for us to look inwards in order to rectify wrongs which exist.

This does not require pleading for international support, use of coercive diplomacy, diversion of scarce resources at a time of e conomic meltdown, or feeling frustrated with Pakistan’s dilatory tactics. We can neither control the external world nor choose our neighbours. But it is possible to secure our state and society, and influence the course of events in India and the world outside, by ensuring justice for our own people who are marginalised and suffer persecution.


1 Despite spending $25 billion after 1999 and committed to purchase military hardware worth $30 billion between 2007 and 2012, the Indian armed forces remain ill-prepared to launch an attack on Pakistan. There is enough material available in the public domain to know that, apart from US pressure, there were other pressing reasons that helped rule out war. A good analysis is offered by Manoj Joshi writing in Mail Today (17 January 2009) wherein he notes that the Indian armed forces were unwilling to “guarantee” that a surgical strike would not spiral into an all-out war. He further pointed out that the stocks of ammunition, missiles and equipment, which is maintained for an offensive action, was found lacking. He also notes that “(t)he heavy involvement of the Army in counter-insurgency operations cannot but affect its preparedness for its primary role, which is to defend the country against external aggression”. In fact, it is interesting to note that counter-insurgency has resulted in poor performance of Indian army officers with only 23-25 per cent clearing the in-house-service exams for promotions. Retired Lt General H S Bagga, formerly director-general of the army’s manpower, planning and personnel division, says that, until the “late 80s, when Kashmir was peaceful, almost 80 to 90% officers cleared these exams” (The H industan Times, 2 February 2009).

2 In the one-day debate in the Lok Sabha on 11 December 2008 on the amendments moved for UAPA as well as the National Investigation Agency, there were 50 members present in the morning; at 3.30 pm there were 78 members, which fell to 47 by 6 pm. When the PM spoke there were only 90 members present. The effective strength of the house is 507 out of 552 seats earmarked by the Constitution.

3 It is also worth noting that against a sanctioned strength of 15.7 lakh state police, of which 12,09,904 was civil force and 314,122 was armed police in 2007, the shortfall was 118,005 in civil police and 50,000 in state armed police.

4 There is some confusion in the news report which mentions 127 additional battalions for the central paramilitary force, but the break-up provided adds up to 125 battalions, which is as follows: 10 for CRPF, 10 for ITBP, 27 for BSF, 37 for CISF, 37 for SSB and 4 for NSG (The Economic Times, 28 January 2009).

5 The Report of the Group of Ministers on National Security entitled “Reforming the National Security System” (February 2001) had suggested: “In the long run, dispersal of the NSG units at strategic points across the country, would enhance its operational efficiency” (para 4.74, p 52). Why was this recommendation not implemented? They had also recommended that the NSG “should not be deployed for duties, which stretch far beyond its original mandate, as this results in enormous wastage of resources” (para 4.73). Surely VIP duty is one such wastage of public money. More over, it is the Indian public which needs protection from many a person being protected by NSG.

6 The GoM report was presented in February 2001 and therefore it is assumed that military expenditure after that took into account the requirements in line with the recommendations which were made. See also my “Shrinking Horizon of an Expanding Economy: India’s Military Spending”, EPW, Vol XLI, No 14, 8 April 2006, for details.

march 14, 2009

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