A crack team from the Maharashtra Police claims to have solved the July 13, 2011, Mumbai bomb blasts case. Intelligence and police officers from Delhi, probably peering into their fingernails, have however stated that the whole thing amounts to nothing more than netting the 'small fry'. The arrested man, Naquee Ahmed, according to the Delhi Police special wing, is just a police informer who could have led them to big fish such as Yasin Bhatkal. Then in jumps the Centre, backing the Maharashtra Police. Sounds so familiar. And that's because this kind of thing keeps happening over and over again.
Even in the curious case of the 'absent' Salman Rushdie in Jaipur, things ran to a script that would make a David Dhawan film seem like a nuanced docu-drama. The Rajasthan Police, supposedly quoting their counterparts from Mumbai, told the organisers of the literature festival that hired assassins from Mumbai were on their way to Jaipur to knock off the celebrated author. Hogwash! We said nothing of the sort, said the Mumbai lads. So who the hell is telling the truth? We don't know and probably never will.
Allegations, counter-allegations, cover-ups and finger-pointing are the hallmarks of our investigative agencies. Forensics, the careful collation of evidence, the questioning of key witnesses, maintaining a modicum of secrecy until facts are proven, all that seems to be for the birds in this country. We have a whole litany of cases that have been successfully botched up by our Keystone Cops. The Batla House encounter remains a mystery. The Malegaon blasts case has got mired in communal accusations on all sides. Most obvious of them all, 26/11 is still stunningly opaque. Was it just the mysterious David Coleman Headley who did the groundwork? Or did he have friends in low and high places? Were locals involved in the horrific deaths and destruction? Will we ever know?
What is it about our investigative agencies that give them this unique ability to confuse and botch up rather than clarify? What makes the scientific and methodical gathering of evidence, whether for small or big crimes, so alien to our police force? Take the murder of the schoolgirl, Aarushi. Before anyone could say 'IPC', the police had stomped all over what little evidence was left, unleashed a barrage of questions on a variety of people, jumped to several erroneous conclusions, arrested an array of people and... well, today we are no closer to knowing who murdered the girl.
Even in cases of 'ordinary' road accidents, the police don't cordon off the area. All and sundry have a field day destroying vital clues. In the 26/11 case, the mystery of how top cop Hemant Karkare died is still a matter of conjecture. Did he die because he rushed in where cowards feared to tread? Or did he die because he was wearing a substandard bullet-proof vest? Yet others hinted at an internal police conspiracy to do away with Karkare. Was he in the wrong place at the wrong time? At the risk of sounding like a stuck record, we may never know.
In the Delhi High Court blasts, the police had rushed to the conclusion that Indian Mujahideen operatives were the masterminds even before the wounded and dead were taken to hospital. This was hotly contested even at that time. Now it turns out that the same men who carried out the Mumbai serial blasts also carried out the high court blasts. Which the Delhi security forces doubt. Count me in as another Doubting Thomas.
Here's the bottom line: either our security forces are grossly incompetent, or they are deliberately lax. I don't know which option is less scary. There has been some closure on big ticket outrages in other countries — in the 7/7 London underground bombings, even in the 9/11 attacks. You did not see the local police battle it out with other security forces. The investigations were conducted methodically; steps were put in place to see that there were minimal chances of such things happening again. In the US, agencies were created and clear procedures on security put in place. I can't see that here in India. Post-26/11, the plan to beef up coastal surveillance has come to nothing.
Nothing is foolproof. But surely, if it's about minimising the risks and making it harder for terrorists to go about their jobs, our 'protectors' certainly aren't making us less nervous. And where there's confusion, subterfuge and lack of any understanding of how to go about things, there's a breeding ground for conspiracy theories and cynicism. Which makes me wonder whether our bumbling and/or squabbling authorities think it is worth their while to protect us at all. I certainly don't think we'll ever know.