Friday, November 28, 2008

Disjointed Questions on the Bombay Blasts and its aftermath

Being in a distant country while Bombay is under siege, is nerve wracking at best.

My first long stay in Bombay was for my first job, with MBA degree in hand. The first weekend trip we took together as Management trainees was a local train ride from Andheri to South Bombay. We caught up with other batchmates in town for a movie at Metro Cinema and headed over to Cafe Mondegar for a drink and later carried onto Cafe Leopold because we had heard so much about these Bombay favourites. We then walked over to the Gateway of India and gazed at the iconic Taj Palace and towers. Gathering courage we felt we could project enough confidence to walk in and use their washrooms, which we managed.

Since this was the late 90's, B-School salaries weren't as astronomical as they were at the turn of the millennium and we obviously couldn't afford to eat in there, so we headed over to Bademiyan's for more affordable fare.

All these locations were under the media spotlight for the last 48 hours, for reasons one would never have dreamed about.

Personally, this attack was very hard hitting because of the sheer numbers of family and friends who live in the area, who were working late in the area, or were eating in the area after work. As is usual after every such attack in India, we started calling and smsing, then emailing and scrapping (when the phone lines were jammed and over loaded) and everyone we knew in the location to check on their status. This time it was a much, much longer list of people we were checking on.

Some were barricaded inside their houses and offices in the area while their lifts were shut down and they were advised not to leave the premises. Many spent that first night in the office while the rest of us helplessly spent the night hoping and praying for their safety and that the violence wouldn't spread to the surrounding buildings.

We stayed glued to the television and kept refreshing news sites on our computer screen and anxiously followed the sequence of events. Coherent thought was not easy and plenty of questions and inconsistencies kept popping up in my mind.

First of all: kudos to our NSG, army, hotel staff and police for their heroic efforts.

Why/How did this happen:
Intelligence failure is something the foreign media has been harping about in relation to these attacks, but as someone else mentioned: weren't 9/11 and the London Subway attacks, intelligence failures too.

Could we have done anything more to secure the locations?
How many locations will you secure? We have a country of a billion+ citizens, so I don't think it is about securing locations. Terrorists target any and every location. The only way every place can be secured is if citizens take responsibility of being aware of their surroundings and people around them.
We need to stop cribbing about and finding innovative ways to avoid security measures at malls, cinema halls etc. They are there for our security.

Our government should focus on stemming the problem at its roots: training camps, poverty, education, unemployment.

The terrorists were armed with AK47's while a lot of the police and railway police were equipped with nothing more than a lathi. Do they even stand a chance?

Why were 3 top cops traveling in the same vehicle?

Rescue efforts:
The staff at the hotels responded admirably and heroically. Some even lost their own lives while saving the guests. I am not sure if they receive training drills for terrorist situations, but they did their best.

Politicians have no business being anywhere in the area when such situations are ongoing. Having them around, means that security and armed forces are forced to divert their attention to the "security of the politician"
What business did Gopinath Munde have to be at the Nariman House today?
Same problem when they visit hospitals were the wounded are taken. Doctors and nurses are forced to stop tending to their patients and clear the area so the politician and their entourage of news crews and security personnel royally stroll through the area and promise tax payer funds (other peoples money) as remuneration.

While NDTV was the most restrained of the lot, our media still behaved as irresponsibly as always.

People whose family members were stuck inside, is it fair to thrust microphones at their faces and ask them how they are feeling?

Rescued people being brought out of the hotel after a horrifying ordeal, is it fair to thrust microphones at their faces and ask them how they are feeling?

While Right to Information is a wonderful act, some lines should be drawn when it comes to National Security. Broadcasting the immediate moves of the security forces, dissecting their rescue maneuvers, having ex army personnel describe helicopter rescue operations in detail - this only gives more intelligence to the terrorists holed up inside who could be in contact with anyone with a cable connection outside the location, even if cable connection at the hotels had been cut off.

Broadcasting false reports of the operation being over when it isn't because they see a thumbs-up being exchanged between two NSG personnel.

We need an appointed official spokesperson who is the only authority allowed to speak to the media when an operation is ongoing. This person needs to receive reports from all relevant sources and be advised on what news can be released and what cannot. Press should only be allowed at this location and not crawling around the affected area causing more security hazards or getting caught in the cross fire. This should give controlled information and hopefully control the rumour-mongering too.

If the press are controlled in one location, it will also prevent the crowds who were at the locations today not to show solidarity or out of concern but were there for the sole reason of getting their face on camera. (This is a reality in India)

Role of Politicians:
They haven't done anything to prevent the situation, they should stay away from the situation as mentioned above.

Where has the champion of Bombay, Mr Raj Thackeray disappeared to? Which safe location is he hiding in?

Our Home Minister was ineffectual as always. Surprisingly, our Prime Ministers speech didn't induce confidence either.

Politicians need to rise above their petty politics of deciding whether to hold a bundh on December 1st or not.
They should instead be visiting the homes of the brave security personnel who lost their lives and appreciating the efforts of their husbands, sons and fathers (not to be sexist, but no female personnel casualty has been reported yet in this case) who lost their lives in the service of the country. This is one of the few useful things that they can do at this point of time.

I also pray that they do not use this attack to further communalize our country for their own vote bank politics.

Future Action:
It may seem insensitive to say this at this point, but as a country we should take advantage of the terrorists targeting Americans, British and Israeli citizens.
The US previously tried to restrain India when they spoke about retaliation after the parliament attacks.
This is the right opportunity to use this joint sentiment against these terrorists to take a stand and launch a forceful offensive against terrorist camps targeting India.
Use the Israeli intelligence and their expertise to stem the flow of terrorists into India and destroy their their training camps.
We need a single security network that is pan-country, not disjointed co-ordination between multiple agencies.

We need to make our country safe again. Where people do not flinch at a loud sound, where people do not have to think twice before leaving their houses to catch a train, shop for groceries or watch a movie. We need to feel safe. It is our right as citizens.

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