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By Steve Herman
29 November 2008
India's prime minister Saturday called together the country's top military and intelligence chiefs. Officials say he wanted details on the Mumbai terrorist attacks and the responsive actions being taken. In New Delhi, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports the government is finding itself under immediate pressure to show its resolve amid political criticism.
On the day local elections were held in New Delhi, with polling underway in five other states and Mumbai counting bodies from the terror attack, top government officials huddled in the capital.
An Indian academic security specialist predicts little will result from the high-level meetings. Brahma Chellaney of the Center for Policy Research believes Indians have become accustomed to terrorism. He says officials lack the political will to make fundamental changes, even after this attack, which he considers the worst since September, 2001.
|Professor Brahma Chellaney|
"Just the way people here have come to accept corruption they've come to accept a high level of terrorism," said Chellaney. "It's like a part of life. This is a kind of attitude which you will not see in most other parts of the world. This is a terrorist siege of India. This is the whole country being held hostage again and again by small bands of terrorists who obviously have the backing of some important actors outside."
Opposition politicians are wasting no time portraying Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his allies as soft. Some of the political voices on the right also emphasize Pakistan and Islamic extremists as culprits, threatening to worsen tensions between India's majority Hindu and minority Muslim communities.
The nationalist BJP party, for example, in Friday newspapers, ran front-page advertisements illustrated with bloody graphics. It called the government weak, unwilling and incapable of fighting terror. India's science minister, speaking on behalf of the governing coalition's top party, Congress, called the ads "a matter of national shame."
|BJP party newspaper ad|
Some television news channels have been running scrolling commentary from viewers calling for revenge against the culprits and demanding harsher security measures.
Strategic studies professor Brahma Chellaney tells VOA News the government has resisted tougher relevant laws, fearing their misuse.
"There's a big political controversy in India about counter-terror laws,"he said. "I don't like special laws for the purpose of combating terrorism. But the reality is when you are under siege you need certain laws that will speedily bring perpetrators to justice."
Prime Minister Singh wants a new federal investigation agency to combat terror. But that is being resisted by the states.
|Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh |
The states have been criticized for a lack of cooperation among themselves and with the federal government in terror probes. Rivalries among numerous state and national agencies tasked with law enforcement, border security and intelligence gathering have also stymied past investigations.
The prime minister met with military and intelligence chiefs as commandos still were going room to room in the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotel to secure the damaged Mumbai landmark.
Notably the man in charge of domestic security, Home Minister Shivraj Patil, was not present. Opposition leaders have been calling for his ouster for his alleged weak response to terrorist bombings even before the Mumbai attacks.
Patil also convened his own meeting of top officials of various military forces and law enforcement agencies.
The Home Ministry's special secretary for internal security, M.L. Kumawat, says one immediate change after the Mumbai attacks will be improved surveillance of India's 8,000 kilometers of coastline.
"It was decided that there's a need to have better coordination between the navy, coast guard and police by an institutional mechanism and further upgrade coastal security as expeditiously as possible," he said.
Some of the terrorists used boats to infiltrate Mumbai's Colaba coast.
Prime Minister Singh has also called for all political party leaders to meet Sunday in the capital to discuss the attack, which has shocked the nation and prompted calls for a clear and quick response.