In the 12 days since the July 13 terror attacks, home minister RR Patil has not made a single public comment. He is worried that anything he says could trigger adverse reaction from the public or the media and put him in trouble again – the last time, after the November 26, 2008 attacks, he lost his job.
People’s unprecedented protests in 2008, which forced the resignations of a Union home minister, the chief minister and state home minister, have made politicians fearful of criticism that comes after a terror attack.
Does it mean that leaders now take the threat of terror strikes more seriously? “Politicians are a little more serious about terror threats, but the problem lies in the way they handle the issue. They don’t understand that terror is not an issue of mere policing and that we are not dealing with a bunch of gangsters who commit crime for personal gains,” said a former bureaucrat who has handled Maharashtra’s home department.
Crime and terror are two separate issues, and terrorism is not an offshoot of crime. “Our governments react in a typical way after every attack. They talk of buying more weapons and equipment and recruiting more police,” he said.
Experts said the need is for a comprehensive effort, not just with regard to security but to also redress grievances of sections of the society — minority or majority — who are hurt.
“The government needs to involve civil society and experts. There isn’t enough consultation outside the police department,” said a former bureaucrat, requesting anonymity as he is still working for the government. Dr Ratnakar Mahajan, Congress leader and former executive chairman of state planning board, who was part of the consultation group on strengthening the security apparatus after 26/11, agrees.
“As far as handling terror is concerned, I doubt many politicians understand the problem. It is a socio-political issue and there is a problem in the way it is dealt with,” Mahajan said.
Politicians prioritise the handling of crime as it matters more to them. It helps them win elections. “Strengthening a force like the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) will have no political benefit. Besides, developing the terror-handling mechanism is a long-term exercise. Politicians believe in short-term measures,” said a former home secretary.
Politics has affected the state’s preparedness in handling attacks. “In the past two decades, since the era of coalition politics began in Maharashtra, the home department has been the casualty. It is seen as a tool to lord over opponents from Opposition or within the coalition,” said political analyst B Venkatesh Kumar.
The Congress-NCP tussle for power has affected the functioning of the police department and the policy on handling terror.
The NCP, which bartered portfolios such as home in lieu of the chief ministerial chair, does not let the Congress intervene in its functioning. Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan’s outburst two days after the blasts is evidence of that.
“As long as the home department is a pawn in power politics, it will be difficult to tackle terror effectively. Or you need an approach like Union home minister P Chidambaram’s, who has brought some professionalism in the internal security forces,” said Kumar.
Experts warn that political parties and the administration will have to take the issue more seriously as terror groups are continuously reinventing strategies.
“In the coming days, it will become more difficult to track terror. Terror groups now rely on person-to-person contact, which is difficult to monitor as security agencies use technology to intercept communication,” said a home department official. “Information and trained manpower are the key. You have to provide the most seasoned people to a specialised force like the ATS. In past five years, the ATS has been ignored. This kind of attitude will make you a soft target,” he said.