It took so long for the Maharashtra government to end the 26/11 siege that it became the first terror attack in the state’s history to get an official project name: Operation Black Tornado.
With 173 people dead and over 300 injured, the Centre finally stepped in to rescue the city.
And that was just the largest law-and-order fiasco of the last five years. Overall, crime has risen, as have incidents of Naxal violence and communal unrest.
As the Congress-NCP-led state government seeks a third consecutive term, it’s an issue that could cost them votes — and an issue the Opposition is determined to exploit.
“Incidents like 26/11 and the many Naxal attacks have shown that even the police are not safe in Maharashtra,” said Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Madhav Bhandari. “And the government has watched mutely as the situation got worse.” Better security and terror preparedness was part of the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party’s poll manifesto ahead of the 2004 state election.
In the five years that followed, though, the state saw an increase in the number of riot and arson cases — up from 7,902 in 2005 to 9,388 in 2008, according to the annual crime report prepared by the Crime Investigation Department (CID).
Crimes against women also rose, while the overall conviction rate did not.
According to the CID report, Maharashtra — with an average conviction rate of 11.1 per cent through 2006, 2007 and 2008 — had fallen behind even Bihar (15.2%) and Orissa (14.9 %).
Meanwhile, the state’s reaction time remained woefully slow.
In Sangli-Miraj, it took six days for riots over a poster at a Ganesh pandal to be brought under control. One person had died by then, and 24 were injured in the series of clashes earlier this month.
It was the same in Dhule last October and Bhiwandi in July 2006. Protests after a pro-Hindu poster was found ripped up in Dhule turned into a full-scale riot, with 10 people killed by the time curfew was imposed. In Bhiwandi, the unrest began after the police announced they planned to build on land adjacent to a mosque. Two policemen were killed.
And then there were the serial train blasts in Mumbai (July 2006) and the blasts in Malegaon (September 2006 and September 2008).
“The failure to curb terrorism and social unrest is a sign of lack of power given to the police force,” said former director general of police Bhaskarrao Misar. “Given a free hand, the police can deal with unrest.”
Added Shiv Sena spokesperson Neelam Gorhe: “Incidents of communal disturbance have gone up. The government lacks the will power to strengthen the police force.”
The ruling combine maintained that things had, in fact, improved. “Even if the number of cases has gone up, the law-and-order situation is better,” said Congress leader and minister of state for Home Nitin Raut.