Set house in order first

Joginder Singh ji
(Former Director – CBI)

After any terrorist incident, whether in Mumbai or Delhi, candlelight marches, seminars and protest rallies are organised to express the anger of the people. The objective is not only to assert the extreme unhappiness that the people feel about the state of affairs but also to show their resentment towards the Government.

However, the question to be asked is what can a common man do to help eradicate terrorism. Terrorism comes in various shades. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, while addressing a conference of police chiefs in September, stated, “I have consistently held that Left-wing extremism poses perhaps the gravest internal security threat that we face. We have not achieved as much success as we would have liked in containing it. It is a matter of concern that despite efforts, the level of violence in the affected States continues to rise”.

These are the periodic sermons that are doled out to security personnel from time to time, without looking into the causes of the problem. Nobody cares if our security personnel have the adequate training, motivation and infrastructure to deal with these terrorists.

In the same vein, the Prime Minister said that Maoism could not be treated as a law and order problem and that dealing with Maoists required a ‘nuanced’ strategy.

I am frankly foxed and still cannot understand as to what the Prime Minister wants the police to do. Maoists are killing people and security personnel with impunity and all that the Prime Minister can say is that we need to reorient our strategy.

Mr Singh expressed concern at the rise in infiltration both across the LoC and also across the border with Nepal and Bangladesh. “Encounters with armed militants have become more frequent in recent weeks and months…secessionist and militant groups within the state are again attempting to make common cause with outside elements and have embarked on a series of protest movements,” he said.

In such a scenario, what a common man should do is a conundrum. The fight against terrorism is neither physically nor logistically possible for the common man to undertake. He has no access to weapons nor is there any Government-run programme to train him for intelligence gathering.

Even the local police, except in few places, is ill-equipped to fight terrorists. In the 26/11 terrorist attack on Mumbai, as opposed to the AK 47s the terrorists had, majority of the Mumbai policemen had only lathis and antique rifles to defend themselves.

During conversation with some people on the fight against terrorism and the role that the common man can play in this regard, it emerged that most of them were disgusted with the current situation. One of them told me that in our country criminals commit crimes in broad daylight without any fear of punishment. He continued that whether it is a criminal or a terrorist, no one is afraid of the law. My friend suggested that the Government should discard its hypocritical policy and make sure that anti-national elements are eliminated at the entry point to India.

Before involving the common man in the fight against terrorism, in which he is least interested, it will be best for the Government to put its own house in order. India has one of the lowest police-to-population ratios, as the following figures clearly demonstrate. India : 142 (police per lakh of population), Japan : 175, UK : 200, Germany : 300, Australia : 290, USA : 315.

What is required is not homilies or discourses but for the Government to shore up its police numbers and give our security personnel the equipment they need to protect the citizens. No amount of speeches by the powers that be will help solve the problem.

A country’s police force is a professional body and is not expected to talk to criminals and terrorists in double language as politicians do. It should be given the task of eliminating anti-national elements without any strings attached.

If any speeches are to be made and lectures given, then let the politicians and so-called human rights activists go to the affected areas and harangue with the terrorists and their sympathisers.

Also, the terror threat perception is not uniform all over the country. In relatively peaceful States, discussion on terrorism is only academic. Even where terrorists are active, the common man expects the Government to take the lead without exposing him to the wrath of the death-mongers. We should be prepared to die for our country, but not let our country die for us.

What I have been pleading has been frankly and openly accepted by the Union Home Minister who has said that given the imperatives and the challenges of the times “a division of the current functions of the Ministry of Home Affairs is unavoidable.”

He wants a National Centre for Counter Terrorism which does not exist today. It has to be created from scratch. He added, “The Home Minister should devote the whole of his/her time and energy to matters relating to security”.

Admitting that the broad architecture of the new security system was an outcome of last year’s Mumbai attacks, the Home Minister further said, “A billion plus people felt they had been humiliated, and the country had been brought to its knees by a small band of terrorists. I, therefore, propose a bold, thorough and radical restructuring of the security architecture at the national level.”

The bottomline is either one has a terrorist problem or one doesn’t. There cannot be a half-hearted approach. It can only be hoped that the Home Minister is able to live up to the promises he has made to the country.