Indians call for security overhaul

Will they be able to channel their anger into a movement for change?

Anger at politicians, security in Mumbai aftermath
Grief-stricken and angry, Indians are calling for political accountability over Mumbai [EPA]

Since the attacks on Mumbai, the reactions and outpouring of grief, anger and calls for an end to police corruption have been like a dam bursting.

From living rooms, TV studios, the streets, and the blogosphere, Indians have declared ‘enough is enough’.

They say the country’s anti-terror efforts have been marred by poor intelligence, lack of adequate equipment, limited training and poor coordination among the various agencies.

However, the carnage in Mumbai may go down in history: The feeling among many analysts and observers is the aftermath of the attacks could produce a watershed moment which sweeps away generations of corrupt politicians and helps the country turn a new page.

Lack of will?

Retracing the attacks
Video: Indian Muslim’s anger
Pakistan-India ties in focus

Why was Mumbai targeted?
Timeline of Mumbai attack
Voices from Mumbai
Photos: A city under fire

Map: Assault flashpoints
Your Views on the assault

Indians are outraged with the political establishment’s lack of will to fight terror and failure to create an ‘FBI-style’ agency; the government promised such a unit seven years ago but nothing has been established.

The National Security Guard (NSG) unit raised to combat terror attacks is based near Delhi, the national capital.

As a result, nine crucial hours passed before NSG commandoes arrived in Mumbai last week. 

The Mumbai fire brigade has also been so starved of resources that its water hoses were too feeble to reach the fourth floor of the Taj Hotel when a fire erupted there.   

The funding that should have been spent on giving policemen, fire-fighters and intelligence officials better equipment, resources, and training has been either misspent or eroded through corruption, many analysts have said.

“We have a 19th-century police force trying to fight a 21st century menace and they are failing,” Maroof Raza, a defence analyst, told Al Jazeera.

“Indian policemen have only ‘lathis’ (long canes) against AK47s.”

“Visceral anger”

Shobhaa De, a novelist and prominent Mumbai resident, has taken the lead in expressing the mood in the city.

“The anger has been so visceral that if any politician had appeared in public during the siege, he would have been lynched,” she said.

“We’re used to seeing politicians being arrogant, insolent and ineffective but this has surpassed all limits.”

The TV news channels have caught onto the anguish. They are giving time to ordinary citizens to vent and suggest solutions.

Some TV networks have launched mass campaigns called ‘Enough is Enough’ or ‘Citizens Against Terror’.

In Mumbai, people are threatening to stop paying taxes. “Why should we pay taxes when the government can’t protect us. Let them arrest us,” said Vinod Aggarwal, a film technician.

Others are demanding more draconian laws to detain suspected terrorists. 


Indians are demanding accountability following the attacks [EPA]

Public anger was given a boost by speculation earlier this week that Indian intelligence officials had received information indicating a sea-borne attack on Mumbai’s hotels.

A US official earlier told the media that his country had warned India last month of a likely attack on Mumbai. 

For Sunil Lulla, a member of the film industry, the anguish that he and his friends feel will not fade.

Lulla has started an informal ‘Black Badge’ movement to bring together citizens who are calling for improved security measures to prevent further terrorist attacks. 

Hundreds of Mumbai citizens are now sporting black badges in support of the movement, which has a gmail address, a Facebook profile, and a charter.

Lulla, who knew six people trapped in the Oberoi, says that the badge is meant to signify solidarity and trigger conversations.

“People will ask us why we’re wearing these badges. We’ll tell them that the system is rotten and we’re going to wear them until it changes,” he said.


The resignations of the chief minister of the state of Maharashtra, and Shivraj Patil, the federal home minister, failed to quell public indignation.

However, Parsa Venkateshwar Rao, a political analyst, believes the public outcry is rooted in the class system and as a result may not be channelled into anything positive.

“It’s the first time the middle class has been affected. They weren’t so worked up when poor people died,” he told Al Jazeera.

“That is why everyone is upset about the victims of the Taj and Oberoi hotels and not the ordinary people who died at the railway station,” said Rao.

However, India’s politicians appear not to have grasped the new mood or the intensity of people’s anger borne out of a feeling of having been betrayed by their leaders. 

This was evident when Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, the vice-president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, responded to a protest for political accountability by saying women who wore ‘lipstick and powder’ while demonstrating could not be taken seriously.

As the chorus of denunciation continues days after the attack, what is unclear is whether it will build into a wider movement to reform Indian politics.

Avoiding hysteria

As the debate rages, calmer voices have cautioned against anger turning to irrationality and hysteria. 

Vinod Sharma, a political analyst, points out that while the public has been metaphorically calling for politicians’ blood, the country simply cannot do without its legislators and policy-makers.

“We are, after all, a democracy and a democracy needs politicians to function. I think there is a real danger of total cynicism setting in and that won’t be good for the political system,” he Sharma.

Some commentators have warned that there are bigger issues than merely ridiculing politicians for their corruption and dishonesty.

In everyday life, ordinary Indians also lack discipline and honesty. 

“People don’t observe traffic rules or pay their taxes. You have to set your own house in order before you can expect your leaders to be moral paragons,” said Dileep Padgaonkar, the former editor of the Times of India daily newspaper.

In the meantime, people have picked up the pieces and gone back to work, resuming their normal lives.

“India is like a huge elephant,”  said Anjali Reddy, a New Delhi student.

“A wound or pinprick in the ankle has no impact on the rest of the body.”

Source: Al Jazeera