What works for South, works against it too
Last week’s bomb blasts in Hyderabad have turned the nation’s attention on the vulnerability of the southern states. Why has the region emerged as a terror hub in recent years. Aditya Ghosh examines.Updated: Sep 02, 2007, 00:58 IST
They are brand ambassadors of a transforming India. Everyone realises their advantages and are migrating to this part of the country — technologists, scientists, bankers, MBAs, doctors, nurses. And terrorists.
Ironically, the reasons any aspiring professional would consider while shifting base to Bangalore or Hyderabad are the same as those that are attracting terrorists, says Sushant Mahapatra, Bangalore’s additional director general of police (cyber offence division).
As the upwardly mobile flock to Hyderabad and Bangalore for basking in the glory of India’s IT boom, for better connectivity, for the boom in real estate, and for a cosmopolitan culture — they are catching the attention of troublemakers aiming at India’s knowledge hubs.
Both the cities offer a high degree of technical support, particularly in IT, which helps the terrorists not only to network but also to draw up plans, which are believed to be becoming more and more “technologically sophisticated”. “The pace of growth in technology and the networking possibilities have caught the administration unawares. As they delay to react in forming counter strategies and put a safety system in place, people exploit the possibilities,” says Mahapatra. This aids their logistics directly, he says, adding that the Internet has now become the most important element in terror logistics.
According to intelligence officers, logistics — the real, not the virtual — is one thing that works better for terrorists when they operate from the South. With the HuJI and ISI having chosen Bangladesh as a base of operations, the road route through India that connects Kolkata with Hyderabad, Bangalore and Mumbai is flowing with cadres from terrorist cells.
“The Bangladesh border in West Bengal is the most porous and is a favourite entry point for terrorists. Bangalore is the next logical stop. Hyderabad is in between and offers a perfect hideout, with over 45 per cent of the population belonging to the minority community,” says a senior intelligence official from West Bengal. He adds: “Hyderabad offers another advantage — it gets a lot of visitors from the Middle East.” Choosing safe houses in the nearby towns of Hampi and Visakhapatnam, too, is convenient.
Hardly any Indian city can beat Bangalore in real estate growth at present. And that’s attracting a large number of fly-by-night property dealers. “Nowhere else do you have an appreciation rate touching 400 per cent in a year or two. That’s big enough to attract investors from terror outfits,” says a builder on the condition of anonymity. He admits that he regularly hosts visitors from Arab countries at his MG Road office in the Garden City.
Miscreants are not only doubling up as agents who earn a few quick bucks, say the police. “There is a nexus between many of the agents and those who invest, both with dubious backgrounds,” says an official. He claims that intelligence agencies have specific information on members of insurgent groups using Bangalore to generate funds through investing money in property on behalf of their organisations.
The administration has been tipped off, but it is yet to find a solution. “We are trying to evolve a system to register all agents and cancel a deal if the agent does not have a licence,” says Karnataka home minister MP Prakash.
Cosmopolitanism of terror?
“It is always safe if you are in cosmopolitan surroundings. Migration to the southern cities has increased rapidly, and it is all the more easy for the terrorists to hide,” says MA Thimappa, psychologist and former vice-chancellor of Bangalore University.
“Why only Muslim fundamentalists? Even Naxals are making fast inroads into the city. These people are intelligent and are members of different global communities who share their thoughts over the Internet. In a cosmopolitan set-up, it is easier to find sympathisers as well,” Thimappa adds. Also, the number of students coming to the southern states has doubled over the past two years. “We realised how the student community in Bangalore and Hyderabad was becoming a part of globalised students movements. While people are free to interact with different beliefs, it is also important that they should not be misled,” says Ateequr Rahman, general secretary (south zone) at the Students Islamic Organisation.
The people championing growth in the region also understand that development has added to their responsibility of warding off attempts of unrest. IT, the industry which started propelling the growth, is now trying to play a pivotal role in tackling terror.
Bevin Thomas, joint director of Electronic City Industries Association in Bangalore, claims that trust has taken a beating. Now, at several IT campuses in the city, employees need to pass through retina mapping, and are not given access to anything but their immediate work domains. Suspicion is stalking the air.
Says Karthik Shekhar, general secretary, Union for Information & Technology Enabled Services India, a welfare association for IT employees across the country: “The battle is really between the speed of thought and that of technology. Till now, in Bangalore, the latter has won hands down.” The future may not be so sure.
In Hyderabad, the Software Exporters’ Association has floated a security council for employee safety. In this first such formal private security arrangement for an industry and an area, it plans to install electronic security and surveillance systems. “We need to have the system as it seems too vulnerable now. We cannot afford to be targeted or provide shelter for such activities,” says Mallikarjun Rao, secretary of the council.