First Person | The Weak Links

Human resource is an important element for national security

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

In the thick of electioneering, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi said at a rally that officers from the Indian intelligence agencies told him that Pakistan intelligence agencies have been trying to scout fresh blood from among the victims of Muzaffarnagar riots.

This was sacrilegious, and not surprisingly, the first bleeding heart was Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi himself, who quickly denounced Gandhi for suspecting Muslims of dallying with the enemy. Following his cue, several others pounced on Gandhi. And the Congress party tied itself up in knots trying to explain or contextualise the comment. Of course, the Muslim riot victims of Muzaffarnagar, many still in the relief camps, were both understandably and suitably outraged.

But really, what was so outrageous about Gandhi’s comments? Is it really a state secret that since the Nineties, people inimical to India (let’s be polite here) have been trying to exploit the Indian fault-lines? That the first time a foreign hand was discovered in steering a terrorist attack carried out by Indians was in the Mumbai bombings of 1993, which in turn followed the communal carnage of 1992-93 in the city? The subsequent interrogation of hundreds of accused and the long-winding trial established the link between the two incidents. Clearly, some roping in of the riot victims must have happened there, even if the facilitators were not the victims.

In 2003, while working on an article on home-grown terror groups, I had gone to Aligarh to get some clues on the banned Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), the precursor to the deadly Indian Mujahideen. Towards the end of my visit, my escort (a Muslim academic), took me around the University campus. Sitting at one of the tea stalls, sipping overly sweet tea, (with which he probably hoped to sweeten the sharpness of his comment) he struggled with his words.

He started hesitatingly, “After the Gujarat violence of 2002,” he said, lowering his voice even more, “many so-called NGOs (non-governmental organisations) started coming here to collect funds and relief material for the victims. Some carried photographs of the victims and some had CDs with videos. A few approached me as well. I first thought that the idea was to generate sympathy. But some of the videos were very disturbing and were meant to provoke anger. I was repulsed by them.”

He continued in a hushed tone, “I don’t know whether the videos were genuine or what use they were put to, but it is not difficult to guess.”

A lot has changed in these 10 years. But not necessarily for the better. Acts of terror on mainland India are no longer freak or rare instances. They are a chilling reality that happens at an unpredictable frequency. And one of the reasons for that is, very few lessons have been learnt despite occasional voices of concern and reason. A video, even if doctored, is not enough to radicalise a person. Even the most rabid orator cannot radicalise a person, unless there is a sense of victimhood and injustice which can be exploited. And on both these scores, we have repeatedly failed.

As we observed the fifth anniversary of the November 26 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, the media was full of commentary on what has and has not been achieved in terms of building the security infrastructure, the so-called iron wall. With minor variations, every expert insisted that despite the creation of several new institutions and induction of technology, we remain as vulnerable to a terrorist onslaught now as we were in 2008. For most commentators, the reason for this continued vulnerability is half-hearted execution of new measures and the typical laid-back Indian attitude which accepts all misfortune with a sense of fatalism.

Ironically, not one mentioned the weakest link in our elaborate security ensemble: the human resource. It is this link that is most susceptible to exploitation; and it is this link that needs maximum strengthening and reinforcement. And here, I am not doing community profiling alone. Those who remember would know that in 1993, when the RDX consignments were brought to Mumbai, the low-rung government functionaries, who colluded in their landing and subsequent transportation, were neither Muslim nor radicalised. They did it purely for money.

So while mercenaries are one weakness, the other unfortunately pertains to the community, simply because it remains amongst the most exploited group in India, both by ambitious and illiterate community leaders and by opportunist mainstream politicians. Sure, India has a history of communal violence; but earlier only local politicians exploited it for short-term electoral gains. Today, there is an external force which exploits it for purposes more diabolical than winning a local election. As long as incidences like the orchestration of Muzaffarnagar riots through circulation of fake videos will happen, no amount of capacity-building can be effective because the perpetrators know our fault-lines.

The final weakness is in the police force itself, which remains politicised and hence, demotivated. Because of this, on the one hand its community network remains frail and questionable; on the other hand, post-incident investigations are slip-shod and usually focus on apportioning blame in an effort to show efficient work. This reinforces victimhood and injustice and the cycle continues.


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