Blast in IT capital shows city ‘ill-prepared for changes’

blastCOMMENT, NEW DELHI: Security cameras, police check posts and traffic diversions are all back with renewed vigour on the crowded streets of Bengaluru.

And this time there were even drone cameras to keep a watch on the arterial roads of the city as it welcomed 2015.

The police were looking for drunken drivers, alcohol and drugs, but also pipe bombs, guns and even sophisticated explosives. In reality, they may not have had no idea about what they would find, but had to keep vigil in the hope that they could avert a tragedy.

All of it boiled down to one question how prepared is the city, perhaps any city, or its police force, to avert or deal with a “terror strike”?

The question clouded over India’s IT capital as it surfed into a new year with memories of an explosion from the last Sunday of 2014. It left a 37-year-old mother of two from Chennai dead, three others injured, and was a reminder that a blast can take place anytime, anywhere, to claim the lives of the least suspecting.
In this case, like in the other three attacks in the city since 2008, it was a “low-intensity explosive device” that was used. It lacked the sophistication of devices that have been used in cities like Mumbai or Delhi, according to investigators.

They also point out that such blasts are difficult to predict or monitor as they “may not involve a large network and could even be the work of local individual elements.”

Past attacks in the city have been attributed to groups like the Tamil Nadu-based Al-Ummah or elements of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) based in South India, and the Indian Mujahideen (IM).
They have not had an international involvement, except in 2005 when an alleged Lashkar-e-Taiba gunman attacked the Indian Institute of Science.

But the city is firmly on the world map with a strong connect to most countries and a large population of expats; hence even a low intensity explosion would make a global statement, explained former Director of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), P.K. Hormis Tharakan.

Local problems add to the city’s vulnerability. The sheer enormity of its growth over the last two decades has made it extremely difficult to monitor or police.

According to the 2011 census, the city’s population is over 96 lakh and more than 60% are migrants from different parts of India and the world.

The migration is not restricted to software engineers or techies, but includes those from a cross section of society — from construction workers to international students.

‘Global’ city

When compared to any other Indian city, the proportion of those who have moved to Bengaluru over the last decade or two is overwhelming, and even old inhabitants of the city find it difficult to comprehend the changes that have swept through.

This only makes it easy for any criminal element from anywhere in the country to disappear in it, according to police officers.

The recent arrest of the alleged IS tweeter Mehdi Masroor Biswas was an example of how an individual could seem like a perfectly normal young migrant employee of an MNC, but could be involved with a global terror ideology.

In some ways, its enormity gives anonymity to those who move into it.

Geographically, the city ensures easy road connectivity to places such as Hyderabad, Chennai, Mumbai, Pune and Kerala. This adds to the security nightmare as it’s difficult to monitor entry and exit of people.

Against this backdrop, has the city’s police force been augmented with the strength it needs to deal with the challenge?

“Each time such an act takes place, there’s a knee-jerk reaction, but the key is to have systematic investment in technology, manpower and set up a model institution for counter-terrorism” said Pratap Hebilikar, a former bureaucrat who specialises in insurgency-related issues.

All this shows that the city’s infrastructure and security apparatus is struggling to adapt to the change from being a laid-back, retirement centre to a globally important economic centre.
Unfortunately, the attitude of the administration remains laid-back.

For instance, an internal security division was set up in 2006, but it has suffered neglect and has often had several posts vacant. In fact, police officers admit that “postings to the division are seen as punishment postings and not accorded to officers with serious experience.”

The failure to build a stronger security apparatus despite incidents like the arrest of suspected IM operative Yasin Bhatkal and allegations that Riyaz and Iqbal Bhatkal, from Bhatkal village in north coastal Karnataka, constituted the top leadership of the IM is telling.

Apart from this, SIMI is known to have a strong base in places like Hubli in north Karnataka, and criminal elements in coastal parts of the State are known to have strong links to Mumbai-based underworld groups.

However, these elements are not known to have been active in Bengaluru city itself and have instead been focussed on activities in Mumbai and other places outside Karnataka.

This has only meant that the local police have not had to deal with these elements from a security point of view of a city.

“Big organised crime has not been a feature in Bengaluru,” pointed out . Tharakan.

This limits the experience of the police force to deal with it and the only way forward is to evolve a strong government-police-citizen structure to deal with security issues and take them up in a serious and sustained manner, said Heblikar.
While threat perceptions may or may not be real, it’s important to ensure that the security apparatus is equipped to deal with the challenges. Ultimately, that may be the only important lesson to learn. – Comment by T.M VeeraRaghav in The Hindu

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