Letters to the Editor

Published : Dec 13, 1997 00:00 IST

VIP security

I WISH to make some observations on the events that have followed Rajiv Gandhi's assassination (Cover Story, December 12).

There has never been an ideal VIP protectee. General Charles de Gaulle used to disregard the advice of his security officers. John F. Kennedy went to Dallas in Texas despite intelligence reports of likely disruption of his visit by conservative and racist elements. French President Giscard d'Estaing was in the habit of driving at breakneck speed and was once involved in a serious collision with a milk van when he went out at night without informing the security. Indira Gandhi was disinclined to wear a bullet-proof vest. Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme, who was killed in 1987, and his wife were in the habit of going for after-dinner walks without informing their security. When mishaps occur, the security bureaucracy cannot absolve itself of responsibility by claiming that the VIP invited trouble by not observing precautions. The bureaucracy is expected to protect him despite the VIP's propensity for non-observance of precautions.

Rajiv Gandhi used to drive fast in his foreign-made cars, creating difficulties for his escort teams in their Ambassador cars in keeping up with him. Barring this, he generally observed all security precautions. I was associated with Rajiv Gandhi's visit to Paris, Geneva and the Hague in 1985, when the threat to him was very high because of the first anniversary of Operation Bluestar in the Golden Temple. I have seen how he accepted and followed the precautions suggested by Dr. S. Subramaniam, IPS, the founding father of the Special Protection Group (SPG), whom Rajiv Gandhi held in high esteem.

Access control does not mean restricting access to the VIP; it means ensuring that all those allowed access are properly checked through frisking and with the help of metal detectors and anti-explosive devices. It is alleged that President Clinton and his wife allow access to the White House to all kinds of people known to them from their Arkansas days. The Secret Service, responsible for their security, does not object to this so long as they go through the security drill. Rajiv Gandhi's assassination could be attributed to the absence of such a drill.

VIP security has three components: the advance security liaison team, which assesses the effectiveness of the security measures proposed to be taken and ensures the proper sanitisation of the area against weapons and explosives; the static team, which maintains the level of sanitisation; and the close proximity team (bodyguards), which accompanies the VIP. If the advance and static teams are negligent, the bodyguards can still protect the VIP from hand-held weapons, as one saw in the cases of U.S. President Ronald Reagan (1982) and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (1995). But they are helpless against explosives.

The SPG provides a fail-safe mechanism for VVIP protection through a double-check at every stage and level of the implementation of standard security precautions by the State police. The answer to the question of preventing in future tragedies similar to the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi lies not in extending SPG protection to former Prime Ministers and their families, but in raising the capability of the State police through training and deputation of their officers to the SPG so that the State police can benefit from their experience on their return to their cadre. The SPG can also play an advisory role in the case of the security of former Prime Ministers and their families.

The Indian security bureacracy is superb in investigating tragedies and crises after they have taken place and bringing to book those responsible, but rather weak in preventing them. The only instance of successful prevention that one could recall was in the early 1950s when P.R. Rajagopal, IPS, then ADC to the Governor of Central Provinces, prevented a deranged man from stabbing Jawaharlal Nehru.

SECURITY bureaucrats generally complain, legitimately, that while their many successful acts of prevention through timely intelligence remain unknown to the public, their failures are played up. While this is true, the public judges them not by the many wonders thay may have performed in secret but by the blunders of which it has knowledge. In national security matters, one disastrous failure can undo the effect of dozens of achievements.

It is, therefore, necessary that every tragedy and national security disaster is followed by a constructive inquiry to determine what went wrong and to enforce measures against a repetition of the blunders in future. However, our commissions of inquiry have generally been wild goose chases without making us any the wiser for the future.

THE Jain Commission's reported observation that some coded messages of the LTTE, possibly having a bearing on the plans to kill Rajiv Gandhi, remained un-decoded till after the assassination is troubling and indicates the continuing lack of co-ordination amongst the various security agencies of the Centre and the States.

In all Western countries, there is a nodal agency with exclusive responsibility for dealing with communications intelligence, including interception of messages and code-breaking. All other agencies, civilian or military, have to share with it any interception work done by them and feed to it all messages intercepted by them.

The designation of such a nodal agency is for two reasons. First, it prevents unnecessary expenditure on the purchase of costly equipment by different agencies for intercepting the same links. Secondly, a basic principle of code-breaking is that the larger the samples of coded messages from the same source, the quicker and the easier to break them.

If each intercepting agency tries to break coded messages through its own efforts in order to claim exclusive credit for breaking them without sharing the messages with the nodal agency, it would end up by not breaking the code at all owing to the meagre number of samples. This could ultimately lead to a tragedy.

Fifty years after Independence and after many tragedies and disasters, a bane of our security bureaucracy has been an unprofessional and unhealthy pursuit of exclusive credit for good work. Knowledge is not shared with other agencies, with the result that nobody has a complete picture of what is happening. This tendency to keep available knowledge close to one's chest without sharing it with other agencies results, in effect, not in good work, but in total disaster.

Secrecy is important for security agencies, but when the culture of secrecy becomes an obsession, preventing different agencies of the Central and State Governments from working in unison, tragedies such as Rajiv Gandhi's assassination are unavoidable.

B. Raman Additional Secretary (Retd) Cabinet Secretariat Government of India Chennai

Role of intelligence

This refers to your Cover Story (December 12) on the furore caused by the Jain Commission's Interim Report and the consequent political instability that brought about the downfall of the I.K. Gujral Government. The basic question seems to have been lost sight of. Regardless of politically motivated contacts between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and different political parties of India at different times, what is relevant and crucial is whether the intelligence agencies concerned had adequate advance information, and if so whether a proper appreciation of it was made and an appropriate response formulated. If this had been done, it would have been impossible for the conspirators to achieve their objective.

A thorough inquiry should be undertaken into how well the intelligence agencies concerned had appraised the events leading to the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.

A. Arjunan BangaloreUnreliable ally

This refers to your 28-page Cover Story on the politics of blackmail practised unashamedly and irresponsibly by the Congress(I) following the leak of the much-biased Jain Commission Interim Report on Rajiv Gandhi's assassination. Your feature exposes the Congress(I) as an unprincipled and unreliable ally.

For four decades since Independence, the Congress has destabilised non-Congress State governments, beginning with the dismissal of the first Communist Government in Kerala headed by E.M.S. Namboodiripad. Under one pretext or the other it invoked the draconian Article 356 of the Constitution. Later, when the Congress began losing its base in most States and was left with some seats at the Centre in the Opposition, it repeatedly engineered defections from the erstwhile Janata Party and the National Front Governments and installed puppet governments and withdrew its support on flimsy grounds.

This time, however, its game plan boomeranged on itself. Its foolhardy course of action ended, as your splendid editorial correctly points out, in a 'tragi-comedy'. The United Front, even at the cost of losing its government, remained united without succumbing to Congress blackmail. With this, the Bharatiya Janata Party's hope of forming a government at the Centre on its unethical Uttar Pradesh model also came to a halt.

C.R. Bhat Dharwad

The real culprits have been exposed. Successive Union governments led by Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi took the country for a ride. What was M.G. Ramachandran's attitude towards the LTTE? During Jayalalitha's reign, LTTE militants escaped from prisons in Tamil Nadu. All the events that took place in the years 1983 to 1991 have been carefully chronicled in the article, in which truth stares one in the face.

The only blot on the DMK is that during its regime it failed to provide proper security to EPRLF leaders and that the assassination of K. Padmanabha and other EPRLF leaders took place in Chennai.

One last question: How far should we blame Pakistan for providing assistance to Kashmiri ultras when India had been training LTTE on its soil?

K.S. Srinivas BangaloreArticle 356

The Bharatiya Janata Party has succumbed, as your Editorial (November 28) states, to unprincipled politics by inducting persons facing criminal charges (courtesy Congress(I) and other parties) into a 93-member Cabinet.

On the flip side, don't forget that 356 is much bigger than 93. It took 93 men and women plus the President of India to defeat the attempt by Article 356 to raise its ugly head in U.P. I am rather surprised that a progressive journal like Frontline should advocate the use of Article 356 to save secularism. Is feudalism an answer to fundamentalism, I wonder. Besides, secularism that is practised by us is essentially feeding the tiger so that you will be the last to be eaten.

Subbiah Venkataraman BangaloreMother Teresa

This has reference to K. Kumara Sekhar's letter on Mother Teresa (October 31). Much of the controversy about Sister Nirmala's remarks results from the irreconcilability of two different ideologies for bringing about human happiness. According to one, poverty and low standards of living cause misery and so the eradication of poverty and raising of living standards will bring happiness, and this can best be done by providing jobs and material goods. According to the other, material riches are never satisfying - in fact they increase desires - and lead to false hopes. He who loves God and loves his neighbour will find genuine happiness and contentment. Godliness enables men to stay content with the basic necessities of life (that is, food, clothing and shelter), it even produces a distaste for luxuries and pleasures.

The Bible says that we shall always have the poor with us. Christian clergymen are required to be poor through godly living for the sake of mankind. All Christians are required to be poor in spirit. Today these requirements have to a large extent been discarded. Small wonder then that some non-Christians are unable to understand the work of the Missionaries of Charity which is motivated by the gospel.

Pius Dias Bardez, GoaFocus on careers

All the three articles in the feature on education and careers (November 14) are very informative and useful. In this era of management studies and computers, these articles provide guidance to students wishing to take up these highly sought-after careers.

Sheojee Singh PatnaWet grinders

With reference to the article "Home-grown enterprise" (December 12), Meenu Hometec Limited, a pioneer in home appliances industry, is the first organised enterprise that entered the grinder segment. Our wet grinder was the first of its kind.

We are the first enterprise to have taken this industry on the path of technological advance. In fact, we have introduced a fourth generation grinder with patented technology (pending Pattern No. 505/MAS/97).

P.S. Saminathan Director Meenu Hometec Limited Coimbatore

Letters to the Editor may be sent by e-mail to frontline@thehindu.co.in Every letter must carry the full name and postal address of the writer.

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