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Deal with attitude problem

To tackle the threat of ?Islamic? terrorism, Mumbai Police need a radical change of mindset, writes Julio Ribeiro.

india Updated: Oct 23, 2006 05:24 IST

‘Our Police is next only to Scotland Yard!” This was a common refrain in the old days when most of Mumbai’s citizens travelled only to London, if they ever travelled beyond our shores. What made them rate Scotland Yard as the best in the world? No one knows. Policemen reflect the culture, the biases and the attitudes of the people from which they are drawn. Since these differ from country to country and from city to city, the police are also different.

Mumbai’s police were adept in dealing with street crime, mob violence, strikes, bandhs and the like. Later, they got used to dealing with extortion and gangland depredations. But terrorism is a different kettle of fish. Terrorists do not bribe, they kill. They kill innocents and policemen alike. And no one knows when they will strike.

The Punjab Police experienced a full decade of nationalist terrorism in the Eighties and Nineties. That form of terrorism, which first came to notice in a big way in Northern Ireland in the nineteenth century, has been eclipsed by the ‘Islamic’ form which knows no boundaries and relies on a global brotherhood for recruits. It is imperative for the Mumbai Police to learn all they can about the motivation, modus operandi and tactics of these new terrorist organisations.

The March 1993 blasts in Mumbai were planned and executed by local Muslims as revenge for the massacre of their brotheren by the Shiv Sena. The planners of that revenge were holed up in Karachi and Dubai, but they were born and bred in Mumbai. They were identified quickly because of abandoned vehicles replete with the tell-tale marks required by police investigators.

The city has experienced further acts of terrorism in the intervening years and these have been more difficult to detect. The planners now are more professional and far cleverer than those of 1993. Moreover, they have the backing of governments that are not disposed kindly to India and its people.

The executors of the diabolical acts count foreign nationals among their ranks. They, along with some locals who have been trained in our neighbouring countries, cross and re-cross our porous international borders with ease. A few collaborators are recruited locally from among the many emotionally disturbed Muslim citizens. And why are they disturbed? The answer stares us in the face.

The Shiv Sena has indulged in Muslim-bashing in Mumbai for the past three decades. In neighbouring Gujarat, VHP and Bajrang Dal activists have been at this game for a similar length of time. This has not only bred insecurity among the Muslim masses but has also provided a recruiting ground for terrorists. The children or near relatives of people killed or harmed provide a ready recruitment base to terrorist sleeper cells.

The city of Mumbai is the chosen target of terrorist organisations like al-Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Tayyeba not only because it is the commercial capital of the country and presents opportunities for inflicting economic losses, but also because it is easily accessible by sea and air. In addition, there is a sizeable Muslim population that has suffered at the hands of Muslim-bashers.

Taking these factors into account and accepting the stark fact that more such terrorist strikes are not only possible but probable, Mumbai Police have to be prepared to meet the threat. This is not going to be easy since it will involve investing in modern gadgets and personnel trained in their use. But more than resources and manpower, it will require a radical change in the mindset of the guardians of the law.

The quality of policing has suffered over the years because of the politicisation of the force as the political masters have used the power of transfer and appointment to make the police conform. This has also resulted in run-away corruption on a scale not witnessed earlier. Policemen of all ranks have lost sight of their main objective — protecting the life and property of the citizen.

The primary need, therefore, is to induct good leadership in the rungs normally manned by directly recruited IPS officers. If this is done as per the Supreme Court’s recent directives, the next step is to involve the people in some form of participative policing at the mohalla level.

Unless the police realise that their success is possible only when the people are with them, there will be little improvement. The mindset that treats the citizen as inferior has to change if the battle against terrorism is to succeed. In particular, the minority community has to perceive the police as protectors of all citizens, irrespective of their religion or other such considerations.

If the police treat citizens as friends and partners, the latter will respond in like manner and provide useful information about new arrivals in the neighbourhood, suspicious movements or activities and all such inputs that are required to organise counter measures against terrorist strikes.

All over the world, police leaders have realised that there is no substitute to the beat policeman. The beat policeman is our best bet even against the machinations of terrorists. Beat patrolling should be augmented and encouraged. The beat policeman who is friendly and just will get information that no intelligence operative can ever dream of obtaining.

Terrorists, even home-grown ones, require logistical support. Foreign terrorists, even more so. They need safe houses from where to operate, space to store arms and explosives, vehicles with reliable drivers, escape routes and hideouts, and so on. These can be provided only by locals. Usually, these locals tend to be co-religionists who are emotionally inclined to collaborate in acts as heinous as the killing of unsuspecting innocents, because of their feelings of hurt and impotence.

It is imperative for the police leadership to condition and train their men to face these new realities. Presently, most policemen do not know what to expect and when, leave alone the ‘why’ of the problem. Because of their lack of knowledge and also because of their innate biases, they react crudely when terrorists strike, picking up or even roughing up innocent people at random and thereby creating further problems of alienation and disgust.

The entire gamut of ‘Islamic’ terrorism, its origins, manifestations, modus operandi as well as ways and means needed to counter it, needs a new and more radical approach. In particular, the rank and file of the police must be made to realise that every man or woman who believes in Islam is not automatically connected with terrorists and their acts.

Besides making every policeman in the city aware of the nuances of the present threat so that he does not make too many mistakes, a specialised cell needs to be created to supplement the type of intelligence required, and more importantly, to analyse the information given by the beat policemen.

Lastly, there is need to alert the common man to the dangers of the threat without causing unnecessary panic. A subtle propaganda drive by professional agencies should be commissioned. People should be on the lookout for suspicious objects or luggage lying unattended in public places or public transport systems. all this is necessary for the people to have a stake in their own safety and become partners in the fight.

Julio Ribeiro is former DGP, Punjab, and former Commissioner of Police, Mumbai

First Published: Oct 23, 2006 04:28 IST