Terror in Bangalore

Published : Jan 27, 2006 00:00 IST

It is only by encouraging prominent academic centres to raise their own security forces or professional private agencies that incidents like the attack on the IISc can be pre-empted.

THE Indian Institute of Science (IISc) incident in which a retired Indian Institute of Technology professor was killed and several others were injured confirms that terrorists are constantly looking for soft targets to demonstrate their striking power. They have not only the determination but also the resources in terms of men and weapons to spread panic. The usual charges against the police of a failure of intelligence and of negligence have been levelled in this instance also. Such charges are ridiculous to say the least. Yes, it was generally believed that Bangalore was a target because of its Information Technology (IT) might. A document recovered from a terrorist in Delhi several months ago did indicate that some reconnaissance had either taken place or was contemplated with regard to the lay-out of IT companies in Bangalore. The information was no doubt significant but was too bald to trigger focussed response in terms of security precautions. Nevertheless, these companies had considerably heightened their security arrangements since this report was shared with them by the police. As a result, major IT premises in the city had virtually become fortresses that were difficult to penetrate. (Similar action has been taken in cities such as Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata which also boast of world class IT centres.) I wonder whether anything more could have been done without causing serious disruption of work and annoyance to our foreign clients from the United States and other countries that have outsourced a huge volume of work to these companies.

This is the story of the powerful IT industry. What about poor non-defence research and academic institutions like the IISc? As far as I know, there was no intelligence that they would also be targets. When this was the case, there was hardly anybody to blame for any failure. Now, the IISc authorities are being accused of a slip-up in not informing the police that there was going to be an international conference on their campus. I am not very sure that they are culpable. When a terrorist strike was not specifically predicted against research bodies, how could you expect the IISc to have apprised the police of the event? Possibly a lesson has been learnt, and future conferences will be known to the police in advance. The point is, conferences go on for most of the year, and does the police have enough manpower to provide the needed security? If you take care of only those where there is international participation, the terrorist focus could shift to other conferences. This is a `no-win' situation where terrorists have the upper hand, because they can decide at will their timing and the modus operandi. A reasonably effective strategy will be to encourage prominent academic centres and universities to raise their own security forces (as U.S. campuses do) or engage professional private security agencies as many IT companies have done. The question is, can these bodies afford such arrangements? Even where they can afford the cost of security, how many will be willing to spend on this? This is a low priority area for them. This mind-set will have to change, and the pressure for action should come from government through the police. Nothing other than a fiat from government would work, knowing as I do the average academician's dislike for the police.

So much for what we should do to meet future threats. What does Bangalore imply from the point of view of assessing the current terrorist scene? The south is no longer a haven of peace that it was until recently. Terrorists have definitely made inroads and extended their field to a geography that had been relatively unaffected by insurgency, except in pockets of Andhra Pradesh that continue to be affected by the violence unleashed by the People's War. This extension of their sphere of operations by terrorist outfits is a cause for grave concern.

Does Bangalore imply that terrorists are well organised in the southern States? Not necessarily. Because attacks like the one in the IISc do not need extraordinary resources. What is required is the presence of a small group of diehards who are willing to sacrifice themselves in the cause of jehad. With a little amount of planning, they can achieve spectacular success.

Why Bangalore, and not Chennai or Hyderabad? Bangalore is known internationally as the Silicon Valley of India. It reflects the might of our IT prowess, more than the other cities. Creating problems in Bangalore has greater rewards for the enemy. So, he will choose to concentrate here and pour more resources with a view to unsettling the IT industry. The message is possibly primarily for those in the U.S. who have decided to outsource most of their IT work to us. Despite all the propaganda that has gone on for years by the strong anti-outsourcing lobby in that country, companies like the Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Infosys and WIPRO have not recorded any perceptible loss of business. On the contrary, there is everything to indicate a contrary trend. Newer sectors of the U.S. business are showing interest in outsourcing to India. This has naturally induced envy in others, especially Pakistan, which also nurses visions of challenging the Indian IT industry.

Here, I am in total agreement with B. Raman, a former senior official of the external intelligence wing of Government of India and an internationally known observer of the terrorist scene. There are possible sleeper cells in the region that are available for action whenever directed by those operating at the border and have received Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directions. In Raman's estimate, unlike prior to the Babri Masjid episode of December 1992, measurable popular support to militant groups operating from Pakistan is now available in South India. Such support is the sine qua non for successful terrorist operations. There is, therefore, need for planning and extreme circumspection on the part of law enforcement agencies in the four States. The need for active cooperation and the avoidance of oneupmanship among them can hardly be overemphasised. I am actually impressed by the willingness of State police forces to go the extra mile to help each other in such matters. Actually, success in many cases is the outcome of such a positive stance. This is not the case in many other countries. This spirit of mutual assistance will have to be nursed. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA), New Delhi has been the guiding spirit under successive governments. The politics that otherwise dominates our police forces has fortunately not affected areas such as counter-terrorism. This is why our record for solving major terrorist crimes has been reasonably good.

I cannot sign off without a word or two on the current controversy with regard to the alleged tapping of the Samajwadi Party MP Amar Singh's telephone. Eavesdropping through telephone is no doubt obnoxious. The popular perception was that it was always the government that was the culprit. The myth has been exploded. It is shocking that a private telephone service provider can be so easily subverted, if the charge that he had been privy to this operation is proved to be true. So, all my readers will now know how vulnerable they are. Governmental accountability is greater than that of a private company that runs a telephone service. This is one of the reasons why security agencies like the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) had reportedly been opposed to privatisation of such services. But one cannot reverse the decision, as that would be contrary to international practices. Also, we are all aware how poor the services of the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited and the Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited are, compared to private companies, especially in the area of restoration of faulty telephone lines. The Amar Singh episode possibly demands new measures to exercise greater control over private operators, because occurrences like these have serious security implications.

Finally, why are Amar Singh and his party averse to a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquiry? This is a case where the facts of the crime are reasonably clear. A telephone connection has been breached, at the instance of someone who is inimical to the MP. Money has been obviously paid to those who had facilitated the objectionable operation. It is now only a question of identifying the individual(s) at whose instance this was done. Amar Singh himself may be able to give valuable clues. It is inconceivable that an agency like the CBI will either fail to perform or will fix the wrong accused, especially when the complainant is a VIP and the case has attracted wide public attention. The suggestion that a group of Chief Ministers should go into this, rather than an investigating agency, seems preposterous. I am almost certain that no Chief Minister will ever endorse such a bizarre proposition.

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