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The Real Face of Terrorism in India

Lies, betrayal and denial in Bombay, Vir Sanghvi, Hindustan Times New Delhi, July 03, 2010

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We know now that 26/11 could have been avoided. Indian intelligence knew that the terrorists were heading for Bombay a day before the attacks and knew what their targets were. But, as Home Minister P Chidambaram admitted in an interview to me, “We failed to connect the dots.”

The intelligence failures have been addressed and at least one head has rolled. But precious little has been done to hold the Bombay Police accountable for the terrible mistakes they made that night.

If the Bombay Police had not failed so spectacularly, the terrorists could have been defeated on the first night itself. Part of the problem was a loss of nerve. Despite individual acts of bravery (such as the capture of Ajmal Kasab) the police force simply refused to show the courage required.

We are lucky that there hasn’t been another terrorist strike or that the Maoists do not realise what a soft target Bombay is. But if another attack took place tomorrow, the Bombay Police would let the city down and fail as comprehensively as they did on 26/11.For instance, two terrorists operating within a confined space (the Oberoi Hotel) and armed only with hand-held weapons should not have terrified the entire Bombay Police force so much that the cops just sat outside the hotel and watched, waiting for central forces to arrive the next day.

Some of this may have been more than mere cowardice. The then Police Commissioner, Hassan Gafoor, was sacked months after the event, at least partly because he had the courage to say openly what everybody already knew: many of his officers refused to cooperate in the anti-terrorist operation.

The more we learn about the failures of 26/11, a shocking story of petty politics, widespread corruption and divisions within the force emerges.

A few months ago, Vinita Kamte, wife of Ashok Kamte, who first wounded Kasab before losing his life, published a book detailing the circumstances of her husband’s death. She based her account on transcripts of police wireless messages that she had obtained under the RTI after the Bombay  Police tried to suppress them.

Mrs Kamte’s book established that Hemant Karkare, chief of the state’s Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) was deliberately betrayed by the Bombay Police control room. For instance, Karkare asked for reinforcements to be sent to Cama Hospital where Kasab and his partner Ismail were operating.

Though the control room is at the police headquarters, around two minutes from the hospital, no forces were despatched for half an hour. As a consequence, Kasab and Ismail simply strolled out of the hospital unchallenged and headed for Rang Bhavan Lane. They were spotted there by policemen but the control room neglected to inform Karkare.

Karkare believed that Kasab and Ismail were being tackled by policemen at Cama Hospital when his car drove into Rang Bhavan Lane. He had no idea that he was driving into an ambush. In the firing that followed, Karkare, Ashok Kamte and Vijay Salaskar were shot. Kasab and Ismail tossed their bodies on the road and hijacked their car.

Though the control room knew the policemen were lying on the road a few minutes from headquarters, it took 40 minutes to send medical assistance. In those 40 minutes, Ashok Kamte bled to death from a scalp injury.

Now it transpires that even Karkare could have been saved. People have always wondered how the bullets penetrated the bullet-proof jacket he was wearing. The Bombay Police responded by saying that a) he was shot in the neck so the jacket was no protection, b) that the jacket was perfectly good but c) the file pertaining to its purchase had been lost and d) even the jacket itself had miraculously vanished.

An investigation conducted by Headlines Today has finally exposed those claims. The channel has found the file. It establishes that the jacket was clearly sub-standard and had been rejected by the police after tests showed that it offered no protection against AK-47s or 9 mm carbines. Despite this test, top cops okayed the purchase anyway. Obviously, somebody took a kickback — and killed Hemant Karkare.

Further, Headlines Today has also accessed Karkare’s autopsy report. This shows that he was shot in the shoulder and chest — precisely those areas that the jacket was supposed to cover. So, a good quality jacket could have saved his life.

You would have thought that by now, the Maharashtra government would have launched a clean-up operation in the Bombay Police. In fact, the politicisation of the force has increased. Nor can the chief minister do very much because of the tussle with coalition partner, the NCP, which has consistently promoted its own dodgy protégées within the force. Promotions are now decided on the basis of politics, not merit.

What’s worse is that nobody acts on the evidence of police ineptitude. I asked Ashok Chavan, the state chief minister, whether he intended to follow up on the revelations that emerged from the police wireless transcripts reproduced in Vinita Kamte’s book. He took the line that as a governmental enquiry has patted the police on the back, there was no need to do more. About Mrs Kamte’s book, he adopted the position that while one sympathised with a grieving widow, a government could not really be guided by her sentiments.

But of course, this is not about sentiment. Vinita Kamte’s book is meticulously researched. The Headlines Todayexposé  is well-documented with actual pages from the ‘missing’ file and the autopsy report. It is no longer possible to pretend that all is well. There is a serious crisis within the force and the government needs to act.

Whenever I read about Naxalite attacks in central India and come to the bit where commentators say that the Maoists only succeed because the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) is disorganised and badly trained, I sometimes wonder if the Naxalites will realise that there is a more high-profile target within their reach.

Everything we have seen about the Bombay Police suggests that the force’s level of competence is not much higher than the CRPF’s. What’s worse is that while the CRPF is at least sincere, the Bombay Police is a corrupt, badly-divided force where officers end up sacrificing the lives of their colleagues in pursuit of their own political and greed-driven agendas.

We are lucky that there hasn’t been another terrorist strike or that the Maoists do not realise what a soft target Bombay is. But if another attack took place tomorrow, the Bombay Police would let the city down and fail as comprehensively as they did on 26/11. The views expressed by the author are personal.