Dec 20, 2008

Columnists - Vir Sanghvi;How you can propel change, make a difference (G.Read)

Is there something that we can do with the anger that all of us feel in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks? Can we find some constructive way of channelling it apart from appearing on TV shows and demanding that so-called Pakistani flags be removed from slums near our favourite five-star hotels?

It saddens me that so many morons from Mumbai’s chattering classes went on TV to declare that on the whole terrorism was a bad thing but gosh, when it appeared this close to their doorstep it was so bad that we really had to give up on democracy/attack Pakistan/abandon our civil liberties/not pay taxes or whatever.
Because the middle class awakening can make a difference. There are ways in which the educated middle class can use this anger to push for changes in the system. The events of 26/11 exposed the structural weakness in the way India is protected. We may not have the votes to change the way in which it is governed, but we certainly have the power to push for changes in the way it is policed. I yield to nobody in my admiration for the Armed Forces (despite the odd admiral who may have behaved like a prat in the aftermath of the crisis) but the problems in our security structure do not have anything to do with our excellent army, air force or navy.
They have to do with the police. It worries me that the police have not got the credit they deserve for the successes of 26/11. If you look at the CCTV footage that was released by the authorities of the scene inside the Taj you realize that long before the commandos went in, lightly armed Mumbai police officers and constables were already inside risking their lives as automatic fire and grenades rained down on them.

The deaths of such officers as Hemant Karkare took place only because they led from the front, actually placing themselves in the line of fire. We forget also the sacrifices of individual lower-level officers and constables—the railway policemen who attacked the terrorists with their World War II vintage 303s and the policemen from Mumbai’s DB Marg station who using hand arms and lathis arrested Mohammed Ajmal Kasab—and got him alive. One sub-inspector, a 54-year-old man with a family, grabbed Kasab and did not let go of him even as he was shot several times. He died but his efforts put Kasab into custody.
We forget also that the NSG—the undoubted heroes of the siege—is a joint venture between the police and the army; the NSG’s director general, J.K. Dutt, who personally led the operation and impressed all of India with his modesty, clear-headedness and leadership qualities, is an officer from the Indian Police Service (he is now probably the one alumnus that students of Mayo College, where he studied, are most proud of but that’s another story).
The NSG was set up by Rajiv Gandhi (as was the Special Protection Group, India’s answer to the US Secret Service and one of our finest forces—also run by the IPS) specifically to fight terrorism and it has never failed at a single operation.
One problem is that successive governments have not had Rajiv Gandhi’s passion for security and intelligence and all the forces have been denied many of the facilities that they require to function effectively. A larger problem is that all state governments ignore the crucial issue of police reform for fear that a professional police force will not allow them to interfere with its functioning.
It’s here that the middle class has a role to play—it is one area where we can make a difference and can change things for the better.
Take the example of the NSG. No sooner had the media highlighted the fact that the force did not even have a designated plane than the government promptly ordered three planes for the NSG. Now, the strength of the NSG will go up and there will be NSG units stationed in major cities.
All this is entirely due to pressure from the media. It’s not just the media that can make a difference. I saw banker Amit Chandra, lawyer Cyril Shroff, businessman Cyrus Gazdar and others on Maneka Doshi’s CNBC programme and was impressed by the clear-headedness of their vision. Now that group has found more like them and taken the legal route. They’ve filed public interest litigation demanding that the Mumbai police be given the facilities they need to secure the city effectively.
They have also asked why successive reports of police commissions have been ignored. And they’ve urged the court to ask state governments to push ahead with police reform.
Those members of the group I have spoken to are realistic about their prospects. They know that the battle for reform of the police force—which involves many state governments and political parties—will be a long and hard one (can you see Mayawati agreeing to let go of her hold on the UP police, for instance?). But they think that the effort is worth it.
They are more optimistic about using the judicial system to get the Mumbai police the facilities they need. Their petition asks the court to appoint a citizens group to oversee the process. That way we can be sure that the money that is spent actually goes on the right things.
So yes, there is a role for the educated middle class. What a shame then that the buffoons of Mumbai’s Page 3 set nearly blew it for us.

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