Every man his own carver, wrote Jonathan Swift. It didn’t take India’s political leaders too many hours to begin slicing what profit could be had from Thursday’s train-bombing in Chennai. The BJP cast the bombing, on the basis of the flimsiest conjecture, as an attempted attack on Chief Minister Narendra Modi; Congress politicians, for their part, threw about innuendo about the perpetrators’ intentions and provenance. Questions about the extent to which the National Investigation Agency, that is controlled by the Central government, ought to be involved in the process of investigation within the State also quickly came to the fore. Lost in the noise was the issue that really matters: why citizens remain so much at danger when they travel, are at their workplaces, or when they are just walking down a crowded market street. Swathi Parachuri, the young woman whose life was extinguished by the bomb explosion, was one of the thousands of Indians who have died at the hands of terrorists. The killing continues though politicians have, for decades, been promising action.
The facts are simple — and make clear the States and the Central government are equally to blame. As the United States State Department noted earlier this week, India’s internal security infrastructure is severely anaemic. In spite of the massive expansion of police manpower and large investments in technology after 26/11, training standards and personnel skills are well behind minimal acceptable standards. In areas involving specialist skills, like forensics, acute staffing deficits are evident. Last year, The Hindu revealed that the intelligence services, the cutting edge of the country’s counter-terrorism efforts, were yet to fill staffing deficits of up to 33 per cent, a full five years after the Mumbai carnage. The case of the Railway Protection Force, tasked with protecting trains and tracks along with the State government-controlled Government Railway Police, is illustrative. Though the 65,000-strong force has grown steadily in numbers over the last decade, instances of serious crime occurring around the railway system — murder, rape and burglaries — are all up. Even where infrastructure exists for frisking passengers and luggage, it is utilised only cursorily. The same story unfolds in cities around the country, where ill-trained personnel wave metal-detectors over cars or people carrying metal objects — and simply ignore the beeping. The situation has not changed because political leaders and bureaucrats simply don’t care enough about the issue to ensure that police forces are adequately equipped and trained to discharge their functions. The situation won’t change until citizens start holding those in office to higher standards of accountability.