Monday, July 31, 2006

The part I don't get

It’s tough to reconcile this, so do help me out.

Today’s HT on its front page carries a photo of Shweta and Vijaya Futane – wife and mother of office-boy and MBA-aspirant Yogesh Futane who died in the Mumbai train blasts.

Both of them now pack greeting cards, earning Rs2 per stack. Do you get that ? The wife and mother of a bomb blast victim. They have to pack greeting cards now for a living.

Then there’s this photo of another victim with his right hand cut off. The title of the article is “How will I fund my daughter’s education?”. That’s Dhiraj Rathod. The blasts cost him his right forearm.

There’s much more inside the paper, and much more you’d read anyways.

And then last night there was this TV interview. Karan Thapar doing a “Devil’s Advocate” with Mr. M. K. Narayanan, our National Security Advisor.

Read the entire interview here.

I’m reproducing a coulpe of extracts below highlighted in blue

"Karan Thapar: So what’s happening in India is part of a series of events worldwide?

M K Narayanan: Partly worldwide. But, in this case partly India based. What I am saying is that 7/11 is not an isolated incident in Mumbai and you can forget about it. It’s part of a larger pattern. And I say that is important because the people who are responsible for what is taking place, are today a new band of what I would call, a international fanatic group, and their objectives are not always very clear. But, the final goal is obvious.

Let’s come to Mumbai and why do we say that the LeT is involved. When you have a smoking gun, it’s obvious. When you don’t have a smoking gun, that’s where I suppose intelligence agencies have to be reasonably sophisticated, if I might use the term. You may disagree. But, I think it is a combination of intelligence, ground facts, ground realities and very importantly deductive and inductive logic as to how do you arrive at this logic.

Now if in the case of Mumbai blasts, the first important fact is that you cannot have an event of this kind unless you have a certain number of modules, which are available. We have the information that in Maharashtra, in places like Aurangabad and I’m only talking of Maharashtra, but it’s equally true to extent of Gujarat and also true to Andhra Pradesh or Hyderabad and a couple of other places and there are modules available.

Some are known, some are suspected and unfortunately we do not know some. We are aware and we have been tracking modules and it’s because of that the Aurangabad incident could take place. So the first necessity for an event of this kind was the existence of a LeT module, which exists.

The second one is that you take the explosives for instance, one of course in ammonium nitrate that is a common explosive, but there are traces of RDX involved also. It has been possible to establish some kind of connectivity, I don’t know if you can have a proof on that, between the RDX that was used there and some of the RDX that we missed out now in the Aurangabad incident, known as the LeT event.

The third item is with regard to the generic pattern of LeT activities. This is where the deductive and inductive logic comes out, in which what are their targets, what have they achieved, it’s not as if they have wasted their resources like some of the other groups. There is a pattern that’s available – the fingerprints and the footprints of these organisations.

Karan Thapar: Can I suggest something? All of this is putting together - the facts available, inductive and deductive, some of it is suggestive, some of it is corroborative, to Indians this is convincing because we in a sense want to believe it. But the problem is that the world outside is doubtful. They say at best it’s suggestive.

M K Narayanan: I have not completed. Finally where do the instructions come from? Now that’s where electronic intelligence comes in. Sometimes you have people picked up. The investigations for the Mumbai blast are still on. I don’t want it derailed.

We have a couple of foreign nationals, who are under interrogations. We are hopeful that the connections will then be enough to prove to the rest of the world. I think the proof as far as we are concerned is fairly obvious.

I would also like to tell you that there are three or four names which constantly come up when you look at these LeT modules, the controllers in Pakistan for instance - Asim Cheema, Alkama.

I don’t want to reveal everything we know about how the linkages work. There is connectivity about how the people have come in, how some of them come in through Nepal, how they are tracked. Sometimes they are lost, sometimes we don’t know about them.

But, that is the kind of thing you put together and finally when we do that, it should be enough to convince any rational person who is looking at a terrorist conspiracy, which is directed to against India. If you don’t want to believe it, then it becomes much more difficult. "

So, if I’ve got that right, India’s National Security Advisor believes
(1) that the Bombay blasts were the work of terrorist modules and that
(2) we have proof of LeT modules in Aurangabad.
(3) We also think that there is a connection between the RDX in the Bombay blasts and that missing in the Aurangabad LeT haul
(4) It's "fairly obvious" where the instructions for this blast came from.

And how conclusive is this proof ? This reply came as a shocker to me.

"Karan Thapar: Is the sort of proof that you have as good as the sort of proof America had against the Taliban and against Afghanistan when it acted in 2001?

M. K. Narayanan: I think what we have at this point is definitely stronger than what America had when 9/11 took place or immediately thereafter. Since then, they have got a little more information.

But the question then again is -- are you willing to believe it? If you’re willing to believe it, I think we will provide the same kind of story."

So, here’s the part I don’t get. The one person advising the Prime Minister on security seems reasonably convinced that Pakistan was behind 7/11. Why the hell are we as a country not doing anything about it?

Don’t we have any responsibility whatsoever to the victims of the blasts, and their families? Their families. The same families who are now reduced to stacking greeting cards, earning Rs2 per stack.

Because their sons and their husbands were killed in the bomb blasts.

The same bomb blasts which, we believe, were carried out under instructions from Pakistan.

The same Pakistan, who is secure in the knowledge that it has US support.

The same US, whose Asst. Security of State says that we need to come up with evidence on the blasts.

And the same US who went to war after 9/11 against the Taliban, saying and proving that the Taliban did it.

The same proof that we believe is weaker than the proof we have in the 7/11 Mumbai train bombings.

And we still do nothing ? It’s tough to reconcile this. Do help me out.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

26/7 - Never forget

Tuesday, 26th July 2005.

Mumbai lost 546 people to 944mm of rains and flood-related disasters. That number includes 75 killed in landslides and another 179 that drowned in floods. (that toll is as per BMC’s own affidavit).

Considering that we’ve barely come out of the 7/11 train bomb blasts, it’s a tall order to remember those who died a year back on this day. And 546 is a huge number.

One year down the line, and barely anything’s changed in the city. We’ve already had grim reminders in this monsoon that the city remains vulnerable.

Madhav Chitale what ?

The Maharashtra Government had constituted the Madhav Chitale Committee to investigate 26/7. The report was approved on May 24th, 2006 and the Government continues to "take action" on the report's recommendation, leave alone taking to task those responsible for the collapse in the city's infrastructure.

There was also a Concerned Citizens Commission, headed by Justice P. B. Sawant, formed in Sept-05 which was supposed to have submitted its report within three months. While I’ve not read much about this Commission, I’d be glad if someone can forward me a copy of this report.


Somehow, I can’t get myself to call tomorrow an “anniversary”. How can disasters have anniversaries? We will remember 26/7 tomorrow. The media will ensure it. And then, as it does for all things Mumbai, everything will die down and things will get back to what we con ourselves to call “normalcy”.

That normalcy is something I don’t buy for a minute. I wish there was something more permanent to remind us of these disasters (including obviously the train blasts and other dark events this city has seen) and their tolls on human life.

I agree with Govind when he says today that “grief as expressed in permanent memorials may be a powerful emotion”. Towards this I also thank (and agree with) Dilip on his “Never Forget” initiative.

And so, before we forget, here’s that BMC number again. 546 dead, in Mumbai, due to 26/7.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Govt's idiocy - banning blogspot

Currently traveling and regular programing to resume in a week's time.

In the interim I saw that the Govt has done a Big Brother and banned blogspot/some specific blogs. (I've been lucky enough to post so probably I can thank my ISP for that.)

As expected, the blogosphere is raising hell. Head over to
1. Bloggers against Censorship for the latest on this and
2. Desipundit's compilation of the blogosphere's finest venting their ire and
3. that tech guru Amit Agarwal, who - again as expected - has a list of answers to the various how-to's.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Bombay blasts

At 2.32am, per TV channels, 163 dead. 11 minutes, 7 blasts.

At 2.32am, per TV channels, Western Railway's locals between Churchgate-Bandra, Vasai-Virar and other routes have started functioning.

I've just come back home after seeing scores of people on the road offering bottled water, parle-g biscuits and even cooked meals in small packets to each and every vehicle they can stretch their hand to. They were everywhere. And they're still there as I type this.

My thanks to that awesome lot at Mumbai Help for making those calls. Bloggers - you rock. Awesome work.

Head over to Desipundit for their sticky post on 11/7.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Meet our Mayor

"I over-reacted" – Bill to Beatrix Kiddo when she finally hunts him down in Kill Bill 2*.

To this, I now add…

"What else could they have done?" Sena MP, Madhukar Sarpotdar, answering to NDTV’s Sreenavasan Jain’s question on why the Shiv Sainiks reacted violently in Bombay after the statue of Meenatai Thackeray, the late wife of Sena Supremo, Balasaheb Thackeray was desecrated.

…And here now, is my picture of the day (Courtesy: TOI). Guess who is the circled man in that photo?

He’s the mayor of Mumbai – Datta Dalvi. He’s seen leading protesting Shiv Sainiks staging a “rail roko” at Vikhroli Railway Station.

That’s right. Welcome to Mumbai. Where the mayor of the city steps out of his home on a Sunday morning, gets down on the rail tracks and leads protestors to stop trains.

The mayor of the city.

Shiv Sena’s leaders have done it again. While Mr. Sarpotdar’s statement to Mr. Jain should come as no surprise (given his illustrious background in the 1993 riots), the Mayor of the city coming out personally to stop trains comes as a neat slap on the face for Mumbaikars.

The same Mayor, who states "Mumbai City is known not only as the capital city of Maharashtra State, but also as the Urbs Prima in Indis, or the Premier City of India." as he pens the foreword for the one prime agency under his control – the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai.

Forget solving the problems of the city, forget leading the BMC, forget even chilling at home on a Sunday. The Mayor of the city believes that as a Sena leader he has been given the right to stop trains from functioning because the statue of his Supremo’s wife was desecrated.

All this is happening in 2006. In Bombay – the Premier City of India.

The least they can do is remove “The Honourable” part when they address the Mayor.

Being preoccupied with my anger at a situation like this, may I point you to these links
Govind’s take on the Sena’s Sunday party
Gawker's brilliant open letter to the Shiv Sena and
Dilip's recap of past "achievements" of Sena leaders

* - That's Bill's answer to Beatrix when she asks him why he, along with the Deadly Vipers, had wiped out all her friends and to-be family at her wedding.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Hard talk with Chandrashekhar Prabhu

Or at least our (self and Mishti who arranged for the interview) version of it - here on the Hafta. The talk was hard and Mr. Prabhu is not one to pull punches. After talking to him I was left questionning some of my fondly held beliefs, especially on the BWSL (do read how Mr. Prabhu takes it apart).

Here's my favourite quote from our interview. It's something that Mr. Prabhu has been saying publicly on the channels that have been carrying his take on the latest deluge in our city. His words said in this interview last week almost seem prophetic after how the rains of the last few days have yet, yet again crippled the city.

"Q10. Have the politicians of Mumbai failed the city over the years?

The attitude of the city's politicians belonging to all the parties is simple. It is that of a brothel keeper when she looks at an 18-year old girl just bought into prostitution. The keeper looks at this girl with awe and greed and wants her to make the most money by taking as many customers per night as possible. The keeper knows very well that eventually she's going to succumb to AIDS or some disease. But the keeper also knows that she would have made enough money by then.

That is exactly the way in which politicians look at the city. They know that this city is going to crumble. I've had informal discussions with most of them. I've spoken to them very strongly on these issues and they've shown lip sympathy all the time. But over years and years of talking and handling them, you can make out that they don't care at all. They're just not bothered if there's going to be a huge hurricane or catastrophe to the city. They'll use that to garner more resources and make more money. For them any disaster is an opportunity. "

Mr. Prabhu is not an armchair critic. In case you're wondering what he's doing for his city, do read his answer to our next question below -

"Q11. Is there a cure to the problem and if so, what have you done about it

I have realised that instead of breaking my head with the political system, I have to go directly to the people. So I am trying to reach the grassroots and educate the people as to what is good for them and what is not. You need to come through the people because when an issue is discussed at an academic and intellectual level to a politician or a bureaucrat, he doesn't want to understand it. But when it comes from the people through the politician to the bureaucrat, perhaps he understands it. In some cases it is making a difference, because the politicians have their ears to the ground and for them those numbers matter.

In the past two years, I've held 2,700 meetings in the slums and amongst the people. For the first time there are public meetings when we talk about issues of development. I often refer to the Burroughs of London, where there is a voting even on whether a road should be widened; where the people are empowered to take decisions pertaining to urban development of their area. Every individual who is a stake holder has a right to either say yes or no for any development project. These days, I am explaining to people and trying to convince them how important it is for them to participate in the process. "

Interestingly enough, just before the interview with us, Mr. Prabhu had just come back after launching the website for the Vote Mumbai campaign. It looks like a brilliant initiative and I hope it gathers strength.

Here is the link to the full interview.