India's Half Assed Approach to Security

I thought after the tragic events of 26/11 in Bombay that security would get beefed up around the city. Instead “security theater” started to appear at hotels and malls, which is the illusion of security but is just smoke and mirrors. We would drive into the Phoenix Mills mall complex and the routine would begin, they check your glovebox and your trunk. For a period of 3 months, I had an empty suitcase in my trunk and not once did they question me. During busy periods the outsourced security guards sort of give up and just let people through.

The reason for the theatrics is to give you the illusion that things are safe but when the shit hits the fan that’s when you see the true colors.  For example on 26/11, most of the police force abandoned their posts and ran home. I don’t blame them, when you confront someone who has a semi-automatic machine gun and you have a police issued wooden stick, what would you do? If the Indian government was really serious about security it should own the responsibility just like it does for airports and providing protection for government officials.

Over the past few days, I’ve see this “security theater” playing out again but this time involving the internet. The government is trying to curb all the rumors that are being spread about what is happening in Assam and I can understand their reasoning for stopping it. What is more difficult to understand is their method for going about it.

Currently, if they find questionable content they will goto Facebook or Google and ask them to take it down. If those companies don’t take down the content then the Indian government adds that website link to their blacklist of sites to block. All of this takes time and honestly is pretty useless because people can create hundreds of links a minute and their is no way to regulate it via this manual process that the Indian government loves so much.

Twitter seems to be the current flashpoint in part because it has no business operations on the ground in India and doesn’t have to listen to the Indian government. Facebook and Google are in a tough spot since they don’t want to be known for censoring content but then again they don’t want to jeopardize their large workforce in India. Thus the Indian government is looking at various options in dealing with Twitter, if they block the entire service in India they will look stupid in the eyes of the world. But the cat and mouse game of blocking certain accounts is also a waste of time.

If the Indian government was serious about this issue they would look at creating a firewall for screening content and blocking content on the fly. But, it will never get implemented since it will cost real money and I don’t think the Indian government is that serious about this issue, again it’s about “security theater.”

 

City of Apathy

mumbai_trainsIf Calcutta is the City of Joy then Bombay is the City of Apathy. Today is Republic Day which marks the day when the Indian Constitution was adopted and it also happens to be the 2 month anniversary of the November terror attack. What has changed since November 26? Sadly not much. During the attacks everyone in India was calling it “their 9/11”, the comparison is a joke. During 9/11 the mindset of Americans changed within minutes of seeing planes being flown into the World Trade Center.

The local media that I so highly talked about during the attacks is now missing, they have moved onto the latest news story – The Satyam Scam. The foreign media is more concerned, CNN is running a special on a little girl named Moshe that was saved by her maid while her parents got slaughtered at Nariman House. All the candles that were lit in protest helped boost sales for the candle makers but did little else. The cops in Bombay are as unprepared as ever still wielding their government issued bamboo stick and whistle. You would think the incoming Chief Minister of Maharashtra would make a speech and lay out his plans to avoid another attack – wrong.

Here we sit two months later and many unanswered questions remain about the attack:

  • When is the trial of the only surviving terrorist Kasab?
  • What is India planning to do about Pakistan?
  • How is the state government going to provide better security?
  • The updated death and injury count

I believe it’s an economic issue as well. Since the Indian government is fairly inept, people don’t have the luxury to sit around and cry while waiting for the government to help. They have to get back to reality and pickup the pieces on their own. 9/11 is and always will be a defining moment for the US, for India the November attack was just another event to showcase how clueless the Indian government is.

Lost in Translation

Who would have thought after 60 hours of terror in Bombay we would be laughing so soon.  One of the most popular Indian TV shows is The Great Indian Laughter Challenge, however that show is nothing compared to the statements being made by our caring and affectionate government leaders.  The laughter you hear is because most people are laughing in pain at the mockery these elected officials are making of this massacre.  Anyway, let’s go through some of their sound bites:

“If it had not been Sandeep’s (slain NSG commando) house, not even a dog would have glanced that way”

V.S. Achuthanandan, Chief Minister of Kerala (pic shown), was quoted after the father of the slain NSG commando told the minister to take a hike. This would be the equivalent of California Governor Schwarzenegger telling a firefighter’s father to get lost.

 

“I was on an official visit to find out for myself the damage caused to the hotel. It was a sheer coincidence that producer Ram Gopal Verma was also present”

V. Deshmukh, Chief Minister of Maharashtra, was quoted after protests over his actor son Ritesh and director Ram Gopal Verma toured the Taj Palace with him. Imagine if George Bush had Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg visit ground zero within hours of the 9/11 attack.

 

“The odd incident does happen in a big city like Mumbai”

R.R. Patil, Home Minister of Maharashtra, was quoted as the attack was occurring. Maybe, but these “odd incidents” don’t usually last 60 frikken’ hours due to government stupidity.

 

“These are just a few women wearing lipstick and powder taking to the streets”

M.A. Naqvi, BJP Leader, was quoted as saying when talking about citizens protesting. Fair enough, maybe this guy REALLY doesn’t like lipstick and powder.

The larger issue is that most of them are still sticking by their quotes because they don’t see anything wrong with their statements. In fact, many have said their words were incorrectly translated from their mother tongue to English. This is India baby!…where the world knows about “India Shining” but internally we are “India Crying.”

Hundreds dead…now what?

There are some people that are slowly getting back to their routine after the massacre and thinking there is not much they can change. But, many people are shocked and horrified at how the government has addressed the massacre during and after the attacks and want to do something. For me lighting a candle is something you should do when there is a power outage, instead I rather focus on actionable items and have the government get out of their comfort zone. Their comfort zone is a 20 car entourage on Marine Drive and everyone gets out of the way, so if you light candles and have a sit-in on Marine Drive and Mantralaya that would be a much better idea because you are now forcing them to take notice.

Me personally, I’ve been busy putting my thoughts together and will soon approach several large media houses – traditional print media and digital content providers. The overall theme is that we need to have a daily status report front and center on what is happening on a day to day basis in regards to the massacre. But that is only half of it, the other piece is having people such as yourself able to share information and keeping the government honest via collaborative technology. One of the tools we’ll be using is the government’s own Right To Information (RTI) website. Once we get the green light and the basics are in place, I’ll let you know via my blog how you can affect change.

Do I think it will work? Only time will tell, my only fear is that people in South Bombay have always had some what of an elitist attitude and this might be just another example – “MY friends got affected thus the entire nation should give a damn.” Let’s pray people all over India feel violated like the victims in the massacre and want change.

P.S. You might have noticed a new tag/label I’ve been using – WTF. It’s because every time I think of the Mumbai Massacre, I think to myself “What The Fu!@#$.”

Welcome New Guy

The Indian economic situation is so bad that even Chief Ministers are losing their jobs. Vilasrao Deshmukh is rumored to be getting his pink slip from the central government any moment. Between going to every film award ceremony and giving hotel tours to movie directors, it became painfully clear to the central government that his hectic social calendar was getting in the way.  The government is looking at several candidates to replace him, I hope they use a new vetting process to select these most critical positions.  Here is my list of required questions I would ask and every media person should demand be answered:

  1. Name
  2. Education (If you mention Harvard it better be a 2 or 4 year degree, none of those lame-ass 3 week programs. Bonus points for an IIT/IIM grad)
  3. Previous Job
  4. What is your cell phone number/e-mail address
  5. How much did you earn last year?
  6. What is your attitude towards bribery and corruption
  7. Have you ever committed a crime, if so describe
  8. What will your first 100 days look like (since sh@#$ is slow in India, I’ll give you 200 days)
  9. What are your top 5 areas you will focus on
  10. What has been your biggest accomplishment?
  11. What has been your biggest failure and what did you learn from it?
  12. How large of a car entourage/security detail will you require and why?  (Most US Governors have 2 cars or is India so unsafe you need more)

I know many of you were hoping that this blog entry would talk about what I’m planning on doing for change, but I had to put together a list of questions when I heard CM Deshmukh might resign. I promise the next blog entry will be about what I’m planning to do.

Boston.com has a section called the Big Picture and they have some amazing pics from the Massacre: Set 1Set 2

Bombay Massacre Timeline

I apologize for the long delay in updating this blog, I’ve just been suffering from writers block while dealing with my frustration at the current Indian government.  I told myself I would stay away from comparing 9/11 to the Mumbai Massacre but it’s just not possible. This massacre was a combination of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina all rolled into one.  Granted this attack was on a scale never seen before but the government’s inaction is like a page from the Hurricane Katrina playbook – do nothing. And yes, we’ve already had our “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job” moment, RR Patil the Maharashtra Home Minister has been quoted as saying “such small incidents happen.”

The attacks on South Bombay have hit home for me.  Friends would visit Bombay and see the lack of infrastructure, the poverty and the overall craziness of Bombay and would ask why I love Bombay and my answer was simple “I live like a king.” Well, in an instant I’m starting to rethink if it’s worth it. I can’t even count how many times I have visited the Taj Palace this year, it’s like a 2nd home for many of my friends and family.  During the attacks I was receiving emails from people that had visited Bombay and they all said the same basic thing – “I heard about the attacks, hope you are safe. Oh my god I stayed at the Taj Palace, I can’t believe it.”

I’ve put together a timeline of the events as they occurred from a personal point of view, which includes a story of a very, very close friend – SJ.  Her story is nothing short of heart-breaking.

Nov 16 – Met up with my cousin for coffee at the Taj Palace, where he was staying.
Nov 20 – Celebrated my birthday by having dinner at Wasabi located in the Taj Palace.
Nov 23 – Had lunch with family at Golden Dragon which is located in the Taj Palace.
Nov 24 – Dropped off my brother-in-law at the CST train station.

Nov 26
Morning – My cousin checks out of the Taj Palace.
9:15pm – Picked up my sister and nieces from the Airport, they were in India for a wedding. We were driving to the JW Marriot in Juhu to check-in.
9:40pm – Get a call from my wife’s business partner – SJ, she was at Golden Dragon celebrating her husband’s birthday with family. She told us to be safe because there was gunfire at the Taj Palace and the rumor was they were targeting other 5 star hotels – JW Marriott included.
10pm – We rollup to the JW Marriott, the plan was for my sister to check-in and then we would leave.  However, we end up ordering food and start to watch the news…it becomes apparent the situation was spiraling out of control and decide to stay at the hotel with my sister.
Midnight – On TV they report gun fire outside the JW Marriott, I call my driver who was outside and ask him what’s the situation. He said it was quiet and the cops were patrolling the streets.

Nov 27
1:30am – Get a call from SJ saying they are in the Taj Chambers and locked in by the staff. She was afraid but everyone felt comfortable with the Taj staff.
7:30am – We call SJ and she explains how she had escaped with her parents around 3:30am, but still waiting for her husband and father/mother/sister-in-law.
3:30pm – SJ’s mother-in-law’s body was identified, still no word about the other family members.
4:30pm – SJ get’s a call that they have also identifed her husband and father-in-law.
5pm – Local TV is saying the seige at the Taj is over and all hostages have been freed (inaccurate).
7:30pm – I leave the JW Marriott with my wife to be with SJ for several hours, we head to Pedder Road. Leaving the JW where my sister and nieces were was one of the toughest decisions I had to make, however seeing the security detail I felt relieved and assured. We get stuck at Worli for about 30 minutes as the Prime Minister’s 42 car entourage passes through (they had AK-47’s).

8:30pm – We reach SJ’s in-law’s house and it’s just a scene you don’t ever want to witness.  We get word that SJ’s sister-in-law is alive but in critical condition.
11pm – We head back to the JW Marriott so I can be with my sister and nieces. It was eerie that there were no cops on the road as we head back, the only place we saw cops was back at the JW Marriott. I was thinking back to 9/11 where the 405 highway in Los Angeles had cops everywhere for weeks and that was 2800 miles from ground zero.

Nov 28
7am – the National Security Guard (NSG) commando’s got dropped onto Nariman House in Colaba.
10am – We check out of the hotel and drop my sister and nieces off at the airport so they can fly to Goa for a wedding, I was relieved at this point.  Then we proceed to Pedder Road.
2pm – We head for the last rites that were given to SJ’s husband, father-in-law and mother-in-law. Rumors of gunshots at CST and Napeansea Road make the rounds.  For 2 hours the local cable system was cut to fight the rumors and inaccurate reporting.
3:30p – The Oberoi is finally in control of the NSG.
5pm – The TV’s are all talking about the final stages of the operation taking place (inaccurate).
7pm – Nariman House is finally in control of the NSG.

Nov 29
9am – The Taj Palace is finally in control of the NSG, it took almost 60 hours to secure a single hotel.
10:30a – Ratan Tata, CEO of Tata Sons and owner of Taj Palace is on the grounds to survey the damage.

During this massacre there were players that showed leadership and others that should be taken behind a tool shed and violated with a rusted knife (don’t ask).

Winners:

  • NSG personnel – the elite force that brought the massacre to an end at 3 locations – Taj, Oberoi/Trident and Nariman House.
  • Media – unprecedented coverage of the unfolding events.
  • Rajdeep Sardesai, CNN IBN reporter. He has hammered every government official on their laziness.
  • Shobha De, socialite turned activist – very outspoken against the government’s inaction and calling for resignations.
  • Taj and Oberoi/Trident staff – I’ve heard nothing but praise from people within the Taj Palace during the massacre.
  • Ratan Tata – He was on the grounds of the Taj Palace within 90 minutes of the NSG taking control. The Prime Minister and other government officials were nowhere to be found.

Losers:

  • The Indian government.
  • Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh – his speech within hours of the massacre was unintelligible and uninspiring, he makes George Bush look like a Rhodes Scholar.
  • President of India, Pratibha Patil – No comment from her, of course this post is more of a ceremonial post which is all the more reason for her to speak since her calender is free
  • Indian Home Minister, Shivraj Patil – speechless, I meant him not me (he just announced his resignation).
  • National Security Adviser, M.K. Narayanan – didn’t even know he existed.
  • Maharashtra Chief Minister, V. Deshmukh – complained he didn’t get specific information on the attack, was he expecting a call from them?
  • Maharashtra Home Minister, RR Patil said the incident was small, he heard the terrorists wanted to kill 5,000 people, so anything under that number shows how effective the government was.
  • Mayor of Bombay, Dr. Shubha Raul – Yet another ceremonial post. The one big benefit of this position is you get to live in a massive mayoral compound, not bad for doing nothing.
  • Bombay police management team – not much can be expected from them since most carry nothing more then a lathi – yes only a wood stick.
  • We the people – in the end we lost many friends and family.

But the award for the biggest loser goes to Raj Thakery and his MNS supporters.  For the past 8 months we’ve had to listen to his nonsense about how Bombay is for his people (Maharashtrians) and his retarded slogan “Amchi Mumbai” which means Our Bombay.  According to him only Maharashtrians should live here and everyone should speak the local language – Marathi. Yet, when the city was attacked the MNS must have been at home drinking tea and eating vada pav’s.

Random Thoughts

  • Lighting a candle seemed like a good idea till I read my friend Deepak’s blog entry who argues it’s a waste of time
  • Since Obama doesn’t technically start his term till January 20th, I wish India could hire him till then
  • Speaking of Obama, I also want to steal his slogan when it comes to political reform – “Yes We Can”
  • I did my bit of defiance today when running on Marine Drive near the Oberoi, I flipped off a government entourage of 15 vehicles.

My next blog entry is about what I intend to do and hope to make change.

Thanksgiving Massacre

YES, I’M TYPING IN ALL CAPS, WHICH USUALLY INDICATES SOMEONE IS YELLING…I’M F’N PISSED.  To put this post in context, I just came from a friends house who unfortunately got caught in the crossfire at the Taj Palace along with his family.  If my thoughts or grammer are off…get over it.

Over the past week I had visited the Taj Palace several times, meeting friends or eating at the restaurants and had been to the Oberoi a couple times as well.  It’s senseless that people have lost their lives at the hands of a terrorist’s gun.  But even more pathetic has been the government’s inept response and lack of leadership.  Is it not enough that they make our lives miserable with the sheer volume of corruption, but they can’t seem to respond quickly to distress calls from citizens in need who they vouch to protect while campaigning.

Every damn citizen should squarely hold the government responsible for it’s actions (or rather in action) and this massacre should be ground zero for people to realize India IS NOT shining and has not been…it’s been an illusion all along.  9 – 10% GDP growth and they can’t even seize a hotel and take control of it?  Come on, wake up and smell the masala chai.

Who would have thought that South Central LA would be safer than South Bombay.