One more series, this time a series of series, of bomb blasts and the talk of a federal intelligence agency is revived. Whether it is Malegaon, Maharashtra 2006; Hyderabad 2007; or Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Surat 2008, after each atrocity, there is much breast-beating about the failure of the intelligence-gathering agencies. There is then some desultory discussion on the need for a central investigation agency, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the US, to collect, collate, process and interpret data collected by agencies across the country. But soon enough the idea passes into limbo, till the next calamity.
By now it should be clear to even a lay observer that there are serious gaps in India’s intelligence-gathering process. There is not a single instance of a terrorist plot being intercepted and arrests made. Compare that with the high state of alert that the British authorities displayed after the train blasts of 2005. A conspiracy to blow up ten planes carrying people from Britain to the US was busted and 24 persons arrested from various parts of Britain. That’s intelligence gathering, not just rounding up of suspects after the event.
Despite the mystique that surrounds the arcane art of intelligence gathering, the fact is that in India it has fallen on bad days. Not many cops want to work with state intelligence. To put it flatly, there is no money in it, slush money that is. The money is in ordinary crime: raiding dance bars, gambling dens, matka joints and the like and then letting them off the hook for a consideration. Being a spook stalking a terror suspect may have all the makings of a successful Bollywood film, but it’s a mug’s game for the spook.
Talking to this writer, in the wake of the 2006 Malegaon blasts, Julio Ribeiro, former Director General of Police, Punjab and former Police Commissioner of Mumbai, said, “An intelligence job is seen as punishment posting. There is so much money in a crime beat. The entire system is rotten and calls for sweeping reforms. The intelligence cadre has to be separated from the corruption of the crime branch.”
Years ago, there was a move to make direct recruitments to Special Branch (Intelligence). The idea was to have career intelligence officers instead of transferring men from other departments. But the plan was dropped after being tried out briefly because there was heavy lobbying by the officers to make postings to the intelligence and other departments interchangeable.
What the states need to do is to have the local equivalent of the Intelligence Bureau of the Central Government, a force made up of constables and officers, dedicated to the task of intelligence gathering. That would only be the beginning of other reforms.