New Delhi: After a string of terror strikes last year, the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) moved decisively to tighten internal security laws. But some experts say the coalition acted too late, its hand forced by the most audacious attack ever staged in an Indian city, just months before the end of its term in office.
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As many as 12 Indian cities fell victim to terrorism between May and November last year alone, capped by the 26 November siege of Mumbai by suspected Pakistan-based terrorists who sneaked in from the sea. At least 183 people died in the Mumbai attack. The attack triggered nationwide outrage over the government’s inability to protect the country.
The government replaced home minister Shivraj Patil with P. Chidambaram, then finance minister, enacted a law called Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, or UAPA, and set up the National Investigative Agency (NIA).
Unsafe: A 29 November photo of a soldier running for cover during the 60-hour terrorist siege of the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai. David Guttenfelder / AP
Both Bills—to set up the NIA and enforce the UAPA—were passed without any effective debate in Parliament, which, said C. Uday Bhaskar, a defence expert and former director of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, or Idsa, “is a shame on our democracy”.
Experts say the UPA’s response to internal security concerns during most of its tenure was grossly inadequate. “If we look at this in a broader context of what the UPA inherited from the previous government, in terms of what happened during the National Democratic Alliance regime, such as the Kargil attack as well as the attack on Parliament, it failed to come up with an adequate response,” Bhaskar said.
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Idsa says that since 2006, India has suffered at least 73 terrorist attacks resulting in 668 deaths. There were 12 attacks in 2006, 13 in 2007 and 48 in 2008. Between January 2004 and March 2007, the death toll from terrorist attacks in India was 3,674, second only to Iraq in the same period, according to the National Counterterrorism Center in Washington.
“The government should have acted in a systematic way but it was unable to come up with the kind of politico-security response it should have,” said Bhaskar.
The Centre’s response to other law and order problems was also inadequate. The transfer of forest land in May last year to the Amarnath shrine board sparked violence in the Kashmir valley; when the order was revoked, mass protests erupted in Jammu.
The government was nearly helpless even in containing the violence against the minority Christian community after the killing of a rightwing Hindu group’s leader in August.
“...the problem is not any particular government but rather the entire administrative structure, like the police, paramilitary forces, intelligence, etc., which need a complete overhaul,” said Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of Centre for Policy Research, a New Delhi-based think tank. “One major black spot on the UPA government is the fact that it didn’t do anything in this aspect.”
Graphics by Sandeep Bhatnagar / Mint