Its a weekday evening of the new year. Like most days, the sky above London is overcast. Its very cold but fortunately not raining. Light snowfall has been forecast though. The west-bound Circle Line tube train from Liverpool Street towards Paddington is packed with evening commuters heading out of the City. This is one of the lines on which a train was ripped apart by a suicide bomber on the morning of July 7, 2004.
Most commuters are either reading their papers (The Metro newspaper comes free) or looking straight ahead into nothingness. Its warm within the train compartment. For most, it seems like a normal work day. Except for the security that is now omnipresent. For the first time I notice British Transport Police (BTP) getting in and out of the subway trains. At the busy Liverpool Street, a hub for trains out of London, BTP and other constables stand on corners looking warily at the hundreds of commuters walking past.
Signs all over say that you are likely to be frisked and checked. This is for your’s and everyone’s safety, you are told. Its interesting how authorities in many countries are arming themselves with the provisions to take such pre-emptive action. Stopping and frisking someone walking through a tube station would have resulted in legal suits in the past. No longer. The BTP says its Stop & Search policy is transparent and there are guidelines to be followed.
Look What Terrorism Has Achieved
Over the years, its amazing what terrorism has achieved. The US spends billions of dollars (often indiscriminately as is often alleged) on security. Britain has begun to do that as well. More and more resources are being marshaled to manage security concerns. Laws are being changed to empower the state. Citizens are regularly inconvinienced. The objective is to be as pre-emptive as possible. Hence the controversial laws to eavesdrop on telephone calls in the US.
As more money is being spent, the cumulative paranoia appears to multiply as well. The presence of a dozen policemen at your local railway station can be viewed as reassuring or scary, depending on how you look at it. Or daily debates on how whether telephones should be tapped to to crack down on possible terrorists. This makes you think terrorists have infilitrated your very neighbourhoods and lives. Possibly, they are staking out the malls in your city as you are dining at home with your family in the evening.
India comes close. Bombay’s famed Siddhi Vinayak temple has police standing behind sandbags outside. As do other popular temples across the country. An Indian friend from America who visited the temple recently was amazed at how things had changed. Gone was the simple, mid-town feel that he remembered. This was a well-guarded fortress. The whole place smelt of money, he said. That was nothing to do terrorism though.
Tired To Be Paranoid
India is either too immune and pre-occupied to even be paranoid. An average Bombay commuter has to catch the same local every day. Such is the nature of the city’s dynamics. He or she does not even have the time to ponder the nature of global terrorism and how it might affect his or her life the next day. The possibility is real but the probability is dismissed.
This should not mean governments should not be alert. Possibly they are, but terrorism is something the Indian state is not equipped to tackle very effectively. It lacks the sheer resources and bandwidth. And its often too pre-occupied with itself, either with the mundane or important duties like guarding politicians.
There is good news though. Terrorists will never be successful when people ignore them or the damage they do. That has happened almost every time in India. Possibly Bombay leads by example. Hundreds have died in bomb blasts on suburban trains or from car bombs left on parking lots in recent years. Yet, people have picked up the pieces and rapidly moved on. In that, India has been more successful in coping with this scourge.