Pakistan-backed Islamist extremist terrorist activities across India have substantially diminished since 2008, the year of the devastating 26/11 attacks which killed 195 people; another 171 people died in other incidents that year, bringing the total to 366, outside Jammu and Kashmir (J-K).
J-K recorded 541 fatalities in 2008. In the seven years since, Islamist terrorist fatalities outside J-K have totalled 120; while cumulative fatalities in J-K amount to 1,579.
Clearly, the incidence of Islamist terrorism has declined dramatically for a variety of reasons that have little to do with state policy in India.
This, however, has no bearing on our vulnerabilities.
A single index is sufficient to understand the magnitude of the latter.
In 2008, the average expenditure per capita population by the states on policing amounted to Rs 235.63 per annum, or less than 65 paisa per capita per diem; by 2014, this amount had risen to Rs 374.45, or just under Rs 1.03 per capita per diem – a difference that would likely be more than wiped out by the rate of inflation. (A cup of tea in the streets costs at least Rs 10 today.)
For all the rhetoric about our determination to fight terrorism, this is the reality of the most critical element of internal security – the first responders – in India today.
There is visible evidence all around of the dismal state of the police across the country, manifested in growing lawlessness and a public experience of rising insecurity.
It is useful, here, to understand that security is indivisible: you cannot have a cutting edge counter-terrorism response in a degraded system of law and order management; if women are not safe in the streets, then terrorists will also have a free run; if containers full of smuggled goods are sold openly in markets across the country, there is no way to prevent the movement of a few kilograms of explosives or some weapons and ammunition; if various identity documents can be purchased for a few hundred or thousand rupees, terrorists can easily hide themselves out in the open and transact their murderous business under multiple identities. Crucially, no political party and no government, at the Centre or in the states, has shown the slightest enthusiasm for comprehensive reform and improvements in the police. This is unsurprising in a country where 182 members of Parliament and nearly 35% of legislators in state assemblies have criminal charges pending against them.
As for the many proposals announced in the wake of the 26/11 attacks, none but a few ineffectual showcase projects, which have little bearing on our preparedness, has been fully implemented.
The promised expansion of the intelligence apparatus has not materialised; the Crime and Criminal Network and Systems and associated National Database is nowhere to be seen, and has received not a rupee in central funding in the last two budgets; a host of other projects – NATGRID, Coastal Policing and Security, as well as major systemic improvements announced – have been partially implemented, with endemic lack of coordination, and with no more than marginal improvements in capabilities of prevention and response.
We are, seven years later, as vulnerable to terrorist attack as Mumbai was on 26/11.
(Ajai Sahni is executive director, Institute for Conflict Management)