Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Gaming Mumbai's Security

A ship floats in undetected one moonless night and grounds itself on Juhu Beach. It is not an empty shell but filled with a small and lethal army that sweeps inland and takes over strategic locations including the Stock Exchange, the Mantralaya and the various defence installations in the city. Once the key spots are secured, ships waiting offshore disembark several thousand additional troops. By the time the city wakes, it is too late; its disorganized defenders can do nothing.

Nor can the Indian military; they have overwhelming force, but to use it would be to destroy the city and cause catastrophic loss of life. New Delhi realizes that it is helpless and must do what the invaders want.
This can’t happen, you say. It’s just a nightmare gaming scenario.

Not necessarily.

Imagine that the global financial crisis has led to collapse of all the major economies. China is a roiling cauldron of disaffection and is no longer an inviting place for foreign investors. Africa and Latin America have small markets and inadequate infrastructure. Europe and the United States are sunk in negative growth. The sheikdoms of the Gulf are back in the bad old days of oil at $3 a barrel. The only bright spot in the world is India, where internal demand and cheap commodities make the economy hum. It is where investors in powerful countries want to bring their money, but the Indian government insists on observing environmental, social and other norms before greenlighting foreign investment. With Mumbai hostage, it will no longer be able to insist; a powerful foreign elite will call the shots.

 That scenario is a 21st Century replication of all the times in our history that foreign adventurers have looked at India and seen it ripe for the plucking. And anticipating it might not be all that unreal.

Since 2006, some 42 undetected ships have grounded or sunk along the Mumbai-Gujarat coast. The recent spate of junk ships floating into Mumbai was preceded by what can be seen as aggressive probes of Mumbai’s defence and response capacities.

     **  In March 2010, the stationary Indian Coast Guard Ship Vivek was rammed and sunk by MV Global Purity.

      **  In August the same year the MCS Chitra was rammed by the MV Khalifa, causing it to sink in the main navigation channel of Mumbai Harbour.

      **  In January 2011 the Indian Naval Ship Vindhyagiri was rammed by the MV Nordlake causing it to sink after docking.

All three foreign vessels were flying flags of convenience, their real owners hidden behind corporate shields of anonymity.

It is astonishing that in reporting the recent junks that have sunk or grounded near Mumbai none of our newspapers recalled the more aggressive events over the preceding 12 months. It is surprising that in reporting the recent sea trials of China’s first aircraft carrier, there has been no talk of its implications for India. If the aggressor in the scenario envisaged above is Chinese – fronting for investors in developed countries – the presence of a supportive aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean would be game, set and match for the invaders.

The point of gaming these possibilities is not only to create a framework within which the city's defenders can envisage their separate roles; it is also to get civilians to prepare for all eventualities. What will they do if there is a general disaster? What will they need? What can they do to defend the city, to ensure its survival?

Only when we get into this frame of mind can we be really prepared; and unless we are ready for any eventuality, it might be necessary in the future to fight for political independence all over again.

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