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Monday, December 01, 2008

response to crisis: what is our character?

Each person responds to crisis based on his character. When institutions respond, they do so based on the characters that has been built into by their founders as well as the nature of its current occupants. When the staff of Taj hotel responded the way they did in putting their life in front of that of their guests, they represented a culture of safe guarding their guests interests first, this could have come from the management, the promoters and the culture they created and which the staff internalized.

When the government responds the way it did, it represents the impotence of the governance machinery as well the incompetence of the people currently occupying it. Strategically the political blunders are unimaginable. 

1) What the purpose of summoning the ISI chief? Apart from the notional victory of having 'summoned' the chief of another country's intelligence agency, what does it provide the Indian Government? Did the PM actually believe that the ISI chief will come and provide RAW or whoever with all the information they need? To me it seems like asking for the impossible. We have forever blamed ISI for so many terror attacks in India, if that were true, then why ask them for help? If that were not true, then, what purpose will it serve?

2) Rushing the foreign secretary to brief Mr. Obama seems to be an equally unimaginative initiative. USA is not your larger governing structure. Why do it now? What purpose does it serve?  The USA is looking at the rest of the world to bail itself out currently. The days of the uni-polar world is over, the very attack is the proof of that. You don't need to report to the 'boss' every time. You are the boss now. Can't you act like one? 

We have not even called for a emergency meeting of the UN to pass a resolution against Pakistan, to declare it as a terror state. We have not even asked Pakistan to hand over LeT functionaries to us, instead wait and watch while the initiative has been wrested by them and their President makes a statement that, 'we will act based on the evidence'. If we believe that the current government in Pakistan is all 'goody- goody' then, we should have invited Zardari to Mumbai as a gesture and let him be grilled in public by the very articulate media. If we believe in retaliation, we should have said so straight away like Bush did after 9/11. 

Instead, the entire international strategic initiative has been wasted. Now it is down to the bureaucrats who will wrangle over the syntax of what to write for some 'joint statement' with US government to be and what were the exact words used by the President of Pakistan at the time of his conversation with the India PM.  

A moment when the entire international political focus was on India, by not making our statement, ANY statement on terrorism that reflects our own internal character, we have failed to stand for ourselves or stand up for ANYTHING. We have reduced a moment of significance to a wimpy, unimaginative, non-committal bureaucratic wishy-washy kind of nonsense thereby losing an opportunity to have our say in global fight on terror. This is unpardonable.

If this is the global scene, locally we are no better. Shivraj Patil has forever been criticized, and if you have to change him immediately after such an attack, it only gives a sense of success to the terrorists. When multiple-failures result in such a major crisis, it is not time to blame each other and call for peoples' heads to roll, it is time for a very serious review and corrective action. How is Chidambaram better than Shivraj Patil? And isin't the finance ministry equally important? Only a week ago, PC made a statement that he is watching the global financial crisis 24x7, now what happens? or does it mean that he is dispensable in the larger scheme of things in the finance ministry? 

Character is the what is lacking in the way this government has handled the crisis. Character requires conviction, conviction of some sort, any sort. That, we have found wanting in a major way.   

Systemically we need to look/ re-look at many of our safe guard institutions for us to understand why we fail every time:

1) When Intelligence agencies give a notice that there is a possibility of a terror strike, who delivers this note? to whom? what is the responsibility of that person? what is he supposed to do with it? how?

2) How are police men trained? how do they learn how to tackle emerging methods of crime and weapons?
3) Who is responsible for bringing down and escalating security to a person or institution based on whatever intelligence he/she possesses? Is there is a process in place which is governed by certain rules or does this person do that automatically? If there are such processes, how frequently are these reviewed and updated?
4) Who need to communicate to citizens of a city when the city faces crisis of any sort? From the government and bureaucracy? The problem is no one was talking to the citizen of the city of Mumbai except the news channel announcers and they were competing with each other all the time
5) There was absolute pandamonium the other day when media were finally permitted to question someone after one of the operations was supposedly over, not realizing that the operation was still on. What are the rules that govern the government's interaction with the visual media, particularly those that are broadcasting live during a time of crisis? Why was there not one centralized government source talking to the media, and, just about any one and everyone making statements (poor RR Patil lost his job for talking too much)
6) Who determines/governs the behaviour of the media in such times? While on news channel was supposed to have gone over board there was another self-congratulating itself all the time about how restrained it was. What are the rules that govern the telecast behaviour of the visual media?
7) What are the factors that determine who attends to a terror situation and how? Why did senior officers of the police walk in the front to take the bullets? Not to belittle the life of the junior officer or take credit from the senior ones, but, what are the governing principles under which a police officer decides that so and so has to attend to a certain issue or that he has to directly attend to it himself?
8) The CM of Maharashtra is supposed to have told the Home Minister from the Centre that he would require 200 commandoes, how did he arrive at this number? who does the estimation of the need of forces in any situation and based on what factors?
9) Many have questioned Modi's remarks made at time when the operations were still on in front of the hotel, the question is what are the reasons to let a politician to get a photo opportunity, is there any law that prescribes how far a politician can go near a place of terrorist operation even as the rescue work was on?
10) There have been far too many questions about NSG, its operational requirements and resources made available to it, etc. One does not have to go into it, but, if these are the only trained people to tackle terrorist attacks in the country, then, what is the level of preparedness in which they are maintained? Mr. Dutt, their chief in on of the many tele-interviews said, 'you don't expect this kind of thing to happen, so, it takes times to get ready' or words to that effect. If the chief of the only force trained to tackle terrorists in this country says that then there is something terribly wrong. 
11) Everyone is surprised about the terrorist coming in from the sea, how many scenarios do our anti-terrorist groups prepare themselves against? Particularly in terms of urban warfare? How frequently and does the role of other coordinating agencies well defined in this process? What role do political leaders have to play in all this?
12) When there are so many ex-servicemen and police officers so readily available for the visual media to share their experience and knowledge for that 2 minutes of highly interrupted and often irritating public space, how and where does the government system utilize this knowledge?

How much amount of detailing we do in our governance is based on how much we understand its design, its character. We have a borrowed design that is out dated and patched up to cover its inadequacies. Most bureaucrats think changing the system is not the rule, adhering to it is; thereby making any changes based on response to external changes as an almost impossible task. Obviously, what we have not created, we cannot change. The one character that represents our bureaucracy that is its inability to respond to situations, any situation, particularly crisis AS PART OF ITS DUTY, not because few exceptional individuals STEPPED ASIDE THEIR DUTY to respond to the situation. 

P.S.: I post this with much trepidation, the web and blog space is filled with too many people voicing their opinion on the terror attack. I am worried that all this energy should dissipate our anger as just words and not as actions. There are not many actions possible at the individual level at the time of a terror attack, but, much before and after and all the time. If some of the anger is directed towards that, it would be a productive energy rather than wasted in mere digital symbols that would be archived automatically in a month. 

1 comment:

Ramesh Srivats said...

Man, that was some analysis. I agree that all our energy should be focussed towards some kind of solution. You may want to read the second post (from top) on my blog. Would be interested to know what you think.

And if you want a few laughs...

Shivraj Patil debates with Sardar Vallabhai Patel on who was the better home minister. Check

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