Panel: How secure is Bangalore?

On the eve of Independence Day, a panel discussed 'Meeting the Challenges of Terrorism' in the wake of the blasts in the city. A report.

On 14th August 2008, the United States Consulate decided, as part of their fresh initiative to engage with the Indian public, to host a panel discussion on "Meeting the Challenges of Terrorism", at the Taj West End, Bangalore. This was done along with EVAA (Exchange Visitors Alumni Association), of which Janaki Murali, (Group Leader, Education and Research, Infosys Technologies) is the President for the southern region.

The 'Challenges of Terrorism' discussion on 14 August, at Taj West End

The ‘Challenges of Terrorism’ discussion on 14 August, at Taj West End (Pic: Deepa Mohan)

The US Consulate was represented by Ragini Gupta, Consul for Cultural Affairs. The panel discussion was led by Dr D V Guruprasad, IPS, who is the Additional Director General of Police, Recruitment and Training, Government of Karnataka. The other panelists were: H R Binod, Senior Vice-President, and Units Head, India IBU, Infuses Technologies; Dr M J Vinod, Professor, Department of Political Science, Bangalore University; and the discussion was moderated by Dr B M Chengappa, Assistant Editor, the Deccan Herald.

Janaki opened the discussion with admirable promptitude on the dot, at 4.30 PM, and in an address laced with humour, introduced both Ragini and the eminent panelists, each of whom were given a booklet about the US, by Ragini. "Gods dawn and disappear, but Godhood is eternal", Janaki quoted, saying that officials may come and go, but the problems that terrorism has posed to the city of Bangalore are permanent.

Ragini then addressed the gathering, and said that the discussion was an example of "striking while the iron is hot"…..the random acts of violence that have caused loss of life and injuries in Bangalore have resulted in this opportunity of sharing information and expertise, so that future lives can be saved. She introduced EVAA to the audience, it is a group created by the Office of Public Affairs of the US Consulate.

The EVAA forum believes in creating links and bridges between people, and hosting events of mutual interest; and it wants to identify "rising stars" within the Indian community, and send them to the US on a professional development program. These people, then, go on to form the membership of the EVAA. It is a diverse, talented body, and, Ragini said, "we seek to tap into that expertise". One of the alumni, Dr M J Vinod, was one of the panelists, she added.

Setting the stage

Speaking about the discussion to come, Ragini remarked that the timing was a result, in part, of the fact that Bangalore has been the victim of terrorist attacks. The US and India, she said, share similarities in dealing with terrorism: both are free societies and terrorism actually exploits this openness. Terrorism targets public spaces, and in the wake of such terror attacks, there is an urge to clamp down on freedom of movement, which has to be consciously resisted.

The problem was, she observed, that in the aftermath of terrorist violence, people who express "unpopular" opinions peacefully, may be lumped together with those who advocate violence. We have to ponder about the balance between freedom and security; through forums like the panel discussion, she added, we can try to achieve this balance better.

Dr Chengappa of the Deccan Herald then took the stage, and talked about how, today, the country faces an "externally-fostered internal security threat". Today, he said, the difference between border states and the hinterland has disappeared, as terrorists seek to live even in the southern cities such as Bangalore. Porous borders between India and Nepal or Bangladesh mean a real headache for security agencies, he said. "We refer to the ISI as ‘Industry for Sabotaging India’!" he smilingly said. It was a thankless task trying to predict the next terrorist initiative.

From 2000 onwards, there have been repeated terror attacks in India; the government, he said, expressed frustration and disgust, but, on the ground, nothing happens. Clarity and professionalism is lacking, and that explains the major gaps in our security system. Despite the attacks on IISc, Karnataka has continued to take a very moderate line towards terrorism.

Bangalore and terror

He then invited Guruprasad to speak. Guruprasad talked about the "failure of intelligence". Whenever an act of terrorism takes place, he said, the "favorite whipping boy" is the intelligence agency. Many people feel that it is the duty of the intelligence agencies to correctly predict a course of events, and instruct the security agencies to stop those events before they happen. The sad part is that when security agencies do their job well, and stop such incidents, there is no publicity; but whenever there is a failure, these agencies get bad publicity and blame.

He gave a list of various incidents that had happened in Bangalore:

1991: The assassins of Rajiv were traced to Bangalore, and gunned down at Konanakunte.

2000: There were blasts in various churches in Bangalore, and when a Maruti van caught fire, the police were aware that the attack was organized by Deen Dar Anjuman, an organization that the state intelligence of Karnataka had warned about, as long ago as 1935, describing it as an agency spreading communal disharmony.

2002: an Al Umma activist from Tamil Nadu was traced to Sanjay Nagar, and 5 terrorists were gunned down; these were the five who were wanted in connection with the Coimbatore blasts.

Also, in November of the same year, the Fraser Town police caught a scooterist possessing 5 bombs and found that there was a group in Bangalore that was unhappy with the aftermath of the Kaveri riots, and wanted to" teach Kannadigas a lesson". The group had some crude bombs, and the case is still pending trial; they were sympathisers of the LTTE.

2005: The terror attacks at IISc were the first serious attacks in Bangalore." Half an hour after the attack, I was there," said Dr Guruprasad. "The person who had attacked was an amateur, and not a well-trained bomber or shooter." The man, Dr Guruprasad said, could have killed more than 100 people. He saw an unexploded grenade made in China; the alleged terrorist, he said, had not even opened the pin of the grenade. The intention was not to create major damage; the police later found that the man hailed from Bihar, who was given rifles and ammunition to target the Le Meridien hotel, but on finding that the security there was tight, the terrorists decided on IISc as alternate target.

Panelists at the 'Challenges of Terrorism' discussion on 14 August

Panelists at the ‘Challenges of Terrorism’ discussion on 14 August (Pic: Deep Mohan)

Dr Guruprasad added that the National Security Advisory had warned of over 800 sleeper cells in Karnataka, with their main duty being to facilitate terrorists. Some of them had planned to attack Infotech (IT) and Biotech centres such as Infosys; in 2006 the IT majors were told to tighten security, and warnings were also given to defence and research establishments in Bangalore. But until last month, these warning were not taken seriously.

Even the bomb blasts of July were significant, that though the terrorists had placed a number of bombs along Mysore and Hosur Roads, the placement of bombs were noteworthy. A determined terrorist would want much more loss of life, and it was as if these terrorists were more intent on sending the signal of their presence and their ability to act unhindered, rather than cause major damage.

The police, Guruprasad commented wryly, cannot protect the citizens 24/7/365; the citizens of Bangalore should also be aware and alert. In Sanjay Nagar, the terrorists stayed in a house for one month, and the neighbours did not know or care to know. It is a dangerous situation if, in Bangalore, the people don’t know who their neighbours are, or are not bothered about suspicious objects, and do not alert the police.

Another problem the police forces face, says Guruprasad, after one attack, is the matter of subsequent hoax calls, which also have to be dealt with The problem is that the Intelligence Bureau, at the national level, doesn’t have much of a charter, and various States don’t share their intelligence because everyone wants to protect his own turf. It is absolutely necessary, Guruprasad said, to have co ordinated effort to collect and share intelligence.

One must realise that in Bangalore, as elsewhere, terrorists are not from the uneducated or lower strata, Guruprasad asserted. When organisations are recruiting, they should carefully check on the people being hired, and since many terrorist agencies use the Internet extensively to communicate with each other, IT tech experts and security experts should sit together to sort out the problems of identifying terrorist organizations. In the US, more expertise is available as also the sharing of intelligence; here, the agencies depend on human intelligence, but they must utilize more technical tools as well.

The lack of stringent laws like the (repealed) POTO Act results in acts of terrorism that take place across the borders, he opined. However, even with such an Act, with the media and publicity glare, there is a lot of pressure on the investigative agency to produce results, and sometimes it may so happen, Guruprasad said ruefully, that the investigating officer, just to escape the pressure, may implicate innocent people.

Bangalore IT industry’s view

H Prakash Rao spoke next, and said that mentioned that he would be talking purely from the IT industry perspective. The IT industry in Bangalore and Electronics City employs very large numbers of people; more than 75,000 people, 20,000 in Infosys alone. At Electronics City, he said, the Electronics City Industries Association was deeply concerned about threats; there is a real threat, the awareness of it has been growing, and the seriousness is felt acutely.

Electronics City, he said, is run like a small municipal corporation, and the repeated requests for a police station for law and order, was listened to after several years of persuasion. The ELCIA are also trying to get a traffic police station, as it will mean the presence of more policemen in the area, which will give a show of strength There is a large number of people going in and out of the EC area, and also to the villages around; residential apartments are mushrooming, and one police station does not adequately cover the security risks. The larger companies, though, do have security systems in place; intensive checking of visitors, checking on the backgrounds of drivers being hired, is being done, again with the help of technology.

ELCIA conducts frequent meetings in an effort to integrate the security activities; but their recent experience, Prakash said, showed that they were not totally ready, and the process is getting activated now. The strength of 30 security guards has become 100 strong army, with 2 patrol jeeps and a number of patrol motorcycles as well. One security problem is that of a porous boundary, with 11 official entry points. There are 11 security kiosks put up already, and ELCIA has asked the police to help at sensitive points. The Police, he said, asked ELCIA to create a dog squad, and have advised foot soldiers on regular patrol.

J Vinod spoke next, and looked at both the phenomenon of terrorism, and the US response it owns incidents of terror, notably, the Oklahoma bombing, and 9/11. Terrorists act from unconventional motives, he said, and it is alarming how much global networking is taking place between terrorist organisations. The US itself has not had a great record of following up tips received about terrorism. He spoke of the phrase, ‘war on terror’, and said that a better term is ‘counter-terrorism’; counter terrorism has to be proactive, he pointed out, with a high degree of bilateral cooperation. In dealing with terrorism, he said, there had to be the right mix between diplomacy and force; “while draining the swamp, plant the seeds" of better attitudes, so that terrorism does not find a ready harbour in the minds of impressionable youth.

Interaction after the speeches

The debate was then thrown open to the audience, and several members raised questions. Raghunath asked why there has been no action on the ground against terrorism, and why there is a stigma attached to the whole Muslim community because of the acts of a few extremists. Asha Ramesh, a women’s activist, pointed out that the poorest sections of society were the most harassed, and the least protected.

Professor Madhava Raj pointed out that if the police to citizen’s ratio is 1200 is to 1 and 10 per cent of that security is reserved for VIP’s, the effectiveness for the general public is definitely less than it should be. Sabiha, an anchorperson for an Urdu channel, quoted an Urdu couplet:

"Idhar udhar ki na baat, bataa karvaan kyon luta…
Mujhey rehjanon sey gilaa nahin, theri rehbari ka savaal thaa"

(Don’t talk about other matters, tell us why the caravan got looted; I have no complaints against the robbers, it is a question of the lack of your protection.)

I asked why ELCIA were protecting themselves as a unit independent of Bangalore, when they had the funds and the technology to provide some protection to the common citizen as well, and not merely only those who worked in EC, and that too, only while they were at work there; and not in Bangalore where they live. Their response was that they could not take on this added responsibility, but could only take care of ELCIA and Electronics City.

Dr Chengappa then rounded up the discussion, mentioning the chief points that each speaker had made. He said that seamless security organisations should be set up, so that terrorism could be tackled in Bangalore without turf wars and resultant delays. He said that an industrial security force like the ones in Gujarat must be set up and the police-to-population ratio must be improved.

Sandhya Karim of Janaagraha proposed the vote of thanks, and the panel discussion wound up very punctually at 6pm.


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