If there were to be one bad word in the government’s lexicon, it would surely be the National Intelligence Grid (Natgrid). Despised by the intelligence bureaucracy, feared by the ruling political coalition and loathed by the privacy activists, the project is a pariah today. Its chief executive, Raghu Raman, has barely managed to get an extension—in the nick of time—less than two weeks before his tenure was set to expire.
What has gone wrong? Many things. The project was conceived in the months after the 26/11 attacks when the country was caught napping as terrorists went about their gory business. Since then, as with most things Indian, the psychological distance between the fact and its fading memory has lulled policymakers. That has been sufficient time for the proliferation of excuses to kill the project by slow poisoning.
First take the “minority profiling” excuse. This disingenuous argument ignores the fact that terrorism has no religion. If anything, after the confession of Aseemanand, a so-called “saffron terrorist”, this argument should have been buried. It has been kept alive, on a political ventilator, because the United Progressive Alliance faces a number of elections in the next three years—including a parliamentary election. It is sad that our leaders should peddle fear to minorities when they have been victims of terrorism.
There is, however, another kind of politics—of the bureaucratic kind—that wants the project dead. The Indian intelligence system—from the joint intelligence committee down to the plainclothesman snooping around a pan shop—is a hugely inefficient establishment. While 26/11 should not be used as an excuse to castigate an entire system, it is also a truth that until David Headley confessed that he had visited India, our spooks were blissfully unaware about a vital aspect of the conspiracy. A process that makes this system more efficient—which is what Natgrid is supposed to do by linking various databases—is bound to evoke resistance.
Natgrid is not a system that we should fear. It is not Minority Report in real life but a system that makes vital processes more efficient. It certainly will prevent the goof-ups of the kind that led to a terror suspect who was living in India being enumerated on a list of wanted men that we mailed to Islamabad.
Finally, a word about privacy. If today someone wants to gather information that you would not want your parents to know, that can be done easily without Natgrid. So it is time that perverse arguments that have the potential to deny security to millions of Indians were put to an end.
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