By Brigadier Deepak Sinha (Retd)
Mumbai, being our financial capital, has seen a spate of terror attacks, around half a dozen since the 1990’s
Terror attacks can only be prevented if India shows more care in dealing with any forms of religious fundamentalism.
Mumbai, being our financial capital, has seen a spate of terror attacks, around half a dozen since the 1990’s that shattered the lives of many innocent Mumbaikers, leaving over six hundred dead and more than a thousand injured. It was in July, approximately a decade ago, 11 July 2006 to be precise. in a space of just eleven minutes between 6:24 PM and 6:35 PM, the rush hour, first class compartments of seven local trains were targeted with improvised “Pressure Cooker” bombs that left 207 dead and at least 700 injured. Then again, five years later on 13th Jul 2011, serial bombings between 6:54 PM and 7:06 PM, in just 12 minutes, targeted Zaveri Bazar, Opera House and Dadar West localities leaving 26 dead and 130 injured.
Both these attacks had a few common threads. In both cases, the Improvised Explosive Devices (IED’s) were based on RDX High Explosive and used extremely sophisticated timers. Both attacks were carried out by the Indian Mujahideen (IM), a local terror group. Allegedly, the IM was assisted by the Mumbai underworld, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence and some foreign-based terror groups, like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and even Al Qaeda. Rumours made rounds that both attacks were in retaliation against the manner in which the Muslim community has been allegedly ill-treated in the country, especially in Kashmir and Gujarat. Some reports, however, also suggested that the terrorists were also aiming at derailing the Indo –Pakistan peace initiatives that were being undertaken in those days.
In both cases most of the perpetrators have been brought to book. In the former case, all the twelve accused were convicted by a special Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) court in September 2015. Five of those convicted have been sentenced to death while the remainder have been given life terms. In the latter case, the Maharashtra Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) had charge-sheeted ten of the alleged perpetrators of whom five are under arrest, while the rest remain at large. The investigations themselves have not been without controversy as allegations of mass detentions and police brutality have been made. Investigations into the death in custody one of those detained is still in progress.
While it is important to revisit these tragic incidents and commemorate the memory of those lost in these horrific attacks, it is also vitally important to see if lessons have been learnt from all that transpired so as to ensure that such attacks are prevented in the future. Without doubt focus needs to be brought on our intelligence and security establishment to ensure that not only are they forewarned and capable of nipping any such attacks being planned the bud, but also have the training and wherewithal to respond quickly and efficiently in the event terrorists do manage to launch another attack.
However, where we seem to be going wrong, and which is bound to adversely impact our polity and the security environment in the future, is our mishandling of fundamentalists, both of the religious and ideological variety. There is a prevailing belief that the British succeeded in ruling us for two hundred years through their policy of Divide and Rule, it now appears that even the vast majority within our political class believes that a similar policy will pay dividends. Nothing could be further from the truth since we live in a completely different age. A inter-connected world where ideas travel faster than light and movement of people, good and services are no longer restricted by international borders or physical barriers and it is impossible to isolate people or ideas from global discourse. National security is no longer about just protecting the borders but about protecting people. While physical threats continue to pose challenges, non-military threats have gained in importance and directly impact the well- being of nation-states.
This is only possible when local and central governments are empathetic and do not discriminate on the basis of caste, creed, ethnicity or economic status. Where rule of law is given primacy and the criminal justice system works without fear or favour. Sadly, this has never been the case here ever since Independence. The situation has got further exacerbated over the past few years with the rise of Hindu radical groups that have been able to foment trouble with little or no attempts by the state to deal with them except for platitudes. The spate of lynching’s and attacks on minorities by vigilantes’ points to this pathetic state of affairs.
Let alone our political leadership, it is necessary for all of us to understand that by not opposing or raising our voices against fundamentalism and in targeting minorities, we are only helping in making the environment more conducive for radical groups to operate. There will always be criminal elements within society who will attempt to use any and every cause that will benefit them. Those elements can be neutralised by a professional police force and an efficient criminal justice system. The problem arises when the common man perceives he is being discriminated against and unable to get justice and willingly provides support, both overt and covert, to fringe elements.
Added to this, India’s not so friendly neighbouring states often willingly exploit the situation by providing moral, monetary and physical support. In our own case our democratic traditions and the belief in the rule of law have restricted the impact of such groups to a large extent. However if, as a nation, we ignore the consequences of what allows radical elements to thrive, then we are truly on the road to perdition, and the serial bombings will just be milestones to worse atrocities.
The inescapable truth is that only the innocent will pay with their lives, those responsible for the state of affairs will get away, thanks to the personal security and sanitised environment provided at the tax-payer’s cost.