The twin explosions at the Chennai Central railway station last week confirm that there is at least one active terrorist group in the country which has the potential to cause alarm to the peace-loving citizen. It is now known that there was a time device attached to the explosive, and if the train (the Bangalore-Guwahati Express) had not been running late, the incident could well have taken place in Andhra Pradesh through which the train was to head for its destination. This is why any speculation that Chennai was the target of the miscreants is misconceived.
In any case the city’s image of a stable and peaceful metropolis — one that had attracted huge investments by automobile giants (Hyundai and Ford) and IT majors — has received a beating, albeit temporarily. While one cannot blame the Tamil Nadu police for any negligence, the terrorist action in this instance has conclusively established that there are no zones in the country which are out of bounds for the terrorist. This leaves little option for the 28 State Police forces not to be ready for an assault on public peace.
Security does not come cheap, and the next government at the Centre will have to find the resources to beef up the State Police machineries. Politics should not be allowed to come in the way of a give-and-take relationship. We know this has not been so at all times. Petty political differences have on occasion, unfortunately, clouded field operations against terrorists and common criminals, with an attendant impact on the quality of police work.
What is the kind of threat that we should be ready to face? Bellicose statements recently from those at the helm of affairs in Pakistan — including its Army Chief — leave us little in doubt. The Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan will be at work without respite to inflame passions of those in India who are willing to indulge in misadventure. We need to particularly fear the Indian Mujahideen (IM), a group widely known to be a proxy for the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). The ISI funds it through LeT channels. Hence the IM will never be short of resources. The Chennai explosions may or may not be its handiwork. Investigations may not also succeed in pinpointing the perpetrator. Nevertheless it is safe to proceed on the assumption that a well-trained and motivated group is, in fact, at play.
The task on hand is to ferret out IM operatives, who are not large in numbers but are spread across the country, especially in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.
A positive feature however of the operations against the IM is the arrest of some IM cadres. Their interrogation has yielded a wealth of information, not all of it is available in the public domain. There is enough therefore for law enforcement to make a meaningful search for IM cadres and sympathizers. There is however the need for balance at the operational level. Ham-handed police conduct in effecting indiscriminate arrests and subjecting suspects to torture is not only repulsive, but it distracts attention and dissipates energy.
My own impression is that major police forces in India have not done enough to win the confidence of the Muslim groups in the fight against terrorism. There is an unfortunate chasm that divides them. The obvious mutual distrust has grown over the years. This is a delicate relationship that calls for extreme dexterity and skill in public relations. Prejudices will have to give way to help strengthen the focus on fighting the terrorist. What is needed is an enlightened political and police leadership. If this is not in place in the near future, we may come to grief in the form of more aggressive terrorist forays into the most unlikely places of public resort.
The writer is a former CBI Director