This is a write-up from my Weekly Newsletter from Equitymaster of 1.12.2008.
Since I couldn't have said it better, I am reproducing it.
Terrorism - of any kind - on any one cannot be pardoned.
Bombay has, yet again, fallen victim to terrorist attacks. While the terrorist attacks on South Bombay, specifically in the Taj and the Oberoi/Trident, may not be the "worst" we have had, terrorism is terrorism. Murder is murder. It cannot be condoned.
In March 1993 a series of bomb attacks knocked out the Bombay Stock Exchange, battered the Air India building, but the attacks were scattered all over Bombay. More than 250 people were killed in those attacks.
In August 2003, two taxis filled with explosives blew up in the Zaveri Bazaar area, also in South Bombay: 50 people lost their lives.
In July, 2006 bombs ripped through the trains across Bombay - including those in South Bombay: 209 people died.
10 people die every day on the train tracks in Bombay - that is over 3,600 people every year are killed by an uncaring government entity. That is terrorism of the bureaucracy.
There is one farmer committing suicide every 30 minutes in India; over 50 every day.
There have been 150,000 suicides by farmers in India between 1997 and 2005. One out of every five farmers is from the state of Maharashtra. That is terrorism by the government.
8 people have died every day in Kashmir for the past 18 years.
That is 6,570 days of terror in Kashmir.
Bombay had its 60 hours of terror; Kashmir has had 157,680 hours of terror - and still counting.
While these are larger terrorist attacks - in some cases perpetrated by the failure of government - they were an abstract for most of us living in South Bombay.
A statistical data point that made it to page 5 of the newspapers in South Bombay as we went along with our daily lives.
Till we saw the Taj and Oberoi/Trident in flames.
Now we are in a rage.
"Anger tends to cloud judgement" said Mahatma Gandhi.
So, while we - rightfully - scream for blood, maybe it is time to step back and see what the origins of some of these problems are.
Why fires burn
Any act of violence or terrorism should lead to 3 questions:
1) what caused the person to be violent?
2) could we have protected ourselves from that act of violence?
3) what can we do to prevent this from occurring again - or improving the response?
One can write a book on this.
And still get it wrong.
Some commentators have blamed the surge in Islamic terrorism on the Palestinian issue. Some on Kashmir. Some blame it on the export of the Wahabi version of Islam practiced by the Saudi Arabians who are enriched with petro-dollars. Some blame it on the fact that Muslims in India are at the lower end of the wealth spectrum. Some blame it on lack of education. Some say the Hindu mobs that destroyed the Babri Masjid were frustrated and fed up with the slow government - they were terrorists. Some say the Hindu terrorists who destroy churches are retaliating against the Christians for their forced conversions.
An eye for an eye, said the Mahatma, merely makes the whole world blind.
I have no love for countries that support terrorists - or religious leaders and politicians who mis-interpret their religion so that they can bless violence.
But pointing fingers at Pakistan for everything that goes wrong in India is the easy way out. When we "blame" someone there is an implicit assumption that we are all looking after our own people and this "foreign hand" is messing us up.
Terrorists carry a country’s passport as an identity card - to cross borders - not because they believe in the laws.
Has anyone asked Sri Lanka whether they think that India is a terrorist state? There have been reports that training camps in India have helped the Tamil Tigers in their fight against the Sinhalese. Does that make India a terrorist state? Or do we pardon that because we have many Tamils in India? And if we are a "terrorist state" according to Sri Lanka, what are we doing about it? Or do we ignore them because they are a small nation and we are 50 times their size?
Members of the underworld are known to be harboured in many countries in the middle east. Have we banned Indian businesses and labourers from going to those countries? Do we stop the Indian cricket matches that are played there? Are we silent because we need their oil? If Pakistan was to have a huge oil and gas discovery tomorrow and they agreed to sell it to India - would we change the way we view Pakistan?
We have many home-grown terrorists. The Naxalites are fighting for a redistribution of the wealth of land. What is "foreign" about them? The Naxalites have grown in might because the Indian government has not delivered on the promises laid out in the Preamble and the Constitution.
Corruption of our laws
Our governments and systems have been corrupted by the willingness of those governed to break the law - and then buy their way to innocence. It takes two hands to clap. It takes two to be involved in corruption: the giver and the taker.
So, when I see some industrialists and businessmen on TV blaming the government and the politicians the question to be asked is: have you ever been a part of the "system" and been a partner to corruption?
If a politician knows that he needs to generate one business deal a month for his businessmen friend - on which he gets a nice cut - why should he worry about the voters and the people?
When the next election comes, all the policitian needs to do is bribe the voters with a few gifts - which the corruption money can easily buy. The political system is not judged based on what they have "delivered" to the voters every day over their 5 year tenure. They are judged on the spoils they share with their henchmen and the voters in election month.
And they are willing - like an efficient prostitute - to sell their bodies to the highest bidders: many times a day.
Let’s take the example of this clamour to protect India’s coast line. In 1993, argue those on TV, boats were used to transport RDX that were used in the Bombay blasts. Yet - we are told by these indignant businessmen on the various TV channels - 15 years later there is nothing done to protect India’s coast line.
But India does have a law about its coastline. It says that there can be no construction within 500 metres of the sea. The law may not be a good law and it is disliked by many - but it is a law. Drive along the coast of western India and see how many homes and buildings are within this 500 metre zone? The ones that were constructed after the law came into force stand aloof because things have been "taken care of".
One you have injected a bag of cash into the system, why should the local policeman or local administrator or college clerk or tax officer restrict the cash-taking habit only to the bag of money that you have to offer?
Your willingness to pay a bribe to break the law, has given the administrator the opportunity to set up a parallel business with its own parallel economy.
So, the next time he is asked to look the other way when 2 speed boats head out to sea to pick up a cargo from a ship 4 nautical miles off the coast of Bombay, the only question to be asked is: how much will you pay me?
He does not need to know what the cargo is; or what it is being used for; or by whom.
Just like he does not need to know how large a home you wish to build within the 500 metre restricted coastal zone.
When a college issues a fake identity card, it is because - somewhere in the system there was a breakdown. Maybe some rich son’s kid wanted to go to a bar even before he reached the legal age limit. No problem, he works the system. He hears about how the father works the system every night at home over dinner. Of course, somewhere down the line a fake college identity card may be sold to a terrorist trying to blow up a hotel in South Bombay.
There are rules in Bombay about the time that bars and clubs must close. Like the coastal zone rule, it is disliked. But it is a law. Drive around at night in Bombay and you will see bars open till later than what the law states. Things have been taken care of. The law enforcer has been bought. If the enforcer can be paid to look the other way to keep a bar open beyond legal times, how much would it cost to look the other way as a van or truck winds its way down the roads of South Bombay? Is the enforcer going to ask: do you have Ak-47’s and grenades in there? Does the enforcer ask the bar owner: do you declare your earnings to the tax department or do you serve hooch or foreign liquor?
The Special Economic Zones and the large real estate development projects? Were they policies built on a transparent process? Or were these another way of those with good connections getting what they want?
And then we wonder why the Naxalites are gaining power.
Helping people break the law - or create laws that help a few - has become the major focus of many politicians and administrators in modern India: they get paid well for it.
Bribing the enforcers of law has become our birthright. We are Indian.
So, if you really want India to get on the right track: stop paying bribes. In fact, if someone asks you for a bribe send a letter to the editor of all major newspapers in the country naming that person, why they wanted the bribe, and how much they wanted.
And, yes, if the TV channels had to get an honest declaration of "I have never paid a bribe" from people they invited on their shows, there would be a different breed of panellists on the talk shows.
Marginalise the politicians, not the political process
You don’t want the rule of the army.
You want a democracy.
So you must not change the political process of elections, but you can change who stands for elections.
There have been many suggestions made by others that sound pretty good:
1) remove all security cover given to every politician - then truly those who wish to serve India will be counted;
2) your state of origin has no meaning in India or in any election speech and if that is the platform of any party, they should be barred from the electoral process the NSG commandoes and the Marine Corps did not check the id cards of the people they saved to see if they were Maharshtrians, Gujaratis, of foreigners. They went about the job of saving people at the cost of their lives;
3) politicians cannot visit the site of any terrorist attack - unless they are willing to go unarmed and unescorted to meet the terrorists while they are still alive and well armed.
4) every major metro city must have a NSG-type force of 400 people; this will improve the response time for any future terrorist attack. And these units should not be in control of the state politicians - they report directly to head of the NSG, who reports to the head of the army.
5) the 6 Australian commandos on vacation - with no weapons - who rescued 150 people from the Taj Rooftop showed us what a well-prepared local force can do; time to get training from the Israelis, Australians, UK, and US commando units. And if any political party does not like it, send them on a boat ride to Karachi. Equip the boat with a GPS to ensure they reach Karachi.
There is hope
When we saw the image of the joy on the face of the terrorist at the train station, we realise we are not dealing with a human being. He looked like a bowler who had just taken the prized wicket of a star batsman. But the trophy here was the life of an innocent. We are dealing with an unknown army of people incapable of remorse and driven by misguided passions.
But even though we know the raging response this time around stems from the fact that the island city of South Bombay is now officially a part of India, the fact is that there is anger. And anger, channelled with calm thought, can lead to wonderful change.
We need to recognise that terrorism is not going to disappear. But one can lessen the impact by:
1) having the NSG forces in every major metro city will reduce the time factor for the response.
2) allowing the enforcers of the law to freely enforce the law will improve the efficiency of the police and the local governments. They can focus on their work.
3) Giving the media one common, controlled feed from one camera reducing confusion and reducing the risk of educating the enemy. The media will always look for the breathless excitement of breaking news. We saw the same pictures on all the TV channels - they may have shown images that gave the terrorists a clue as to what was about to happen. In a time of crises, the government (through DD) may as well generate a common footage and let the various channels give their independent opinions and have their independent studio interviews. The NSG can give a news briefing every 2 hours. The lack of time stamps on every image drew a fine line between news and "confuse". It seemed like the Taj Palace hotel had burnt down a hundred times.
"Enough is enough" said NDTV and the hundreds of people they spoke to.
Here are a few snippets of what the people said on NDTV and CNN-IBN:
These are symbols of what we stand for...I walked through this hotel just to feel good...and I will be more than happy to help...
If the politicians were to come here today, they would be killed
We are a lawless people; we have no respect for the law.
And my favourite:
Karkare’s wife refuses help from Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
You cannot eradicate terrorism, but we can defeat it by continuing to live life normally.
And we can help remove the reasons for home-grown or foreign terrorism by eliminating corruption and weeding out the politicians who have debased the political process.