What have we learnt…?
Picture this : A minor politician was arriving at Vishakapatnam airport during peak hours last week. He had just been appointed general secretary of a district in Chiranjeevi’s party, Andhra Pradesh. Cars were stuck for nearly half a kilometer from the airport, since the man’s (hired?) fans and supporters had blocked the road entirely. I thought I heard loud explosions close to the car we were in, and naturally got nervous, given what Mumbai has been through less than a month ago. Somehow, the car managed to get to the departure lounge area after a great deal of honking and aggressive driving. By then, the crowd had surged forward and completely blocked the path of passengers going in or coming out of the airport. Slogans were being raised as more and more people rushed towards the gates. I tried to push my way past those mobs, and nearly lost my balance (and bag!). Noticing a few cops standing around watching this mayhem, I asked them why they were not making any attempt to disperse these people and allow passengers into the building. By the way, there were several foreigners waiting to catch their flight to Hyderabad and there on ,to the countries they’d come from. The cops shrugged indifferently and said, “ What to do?? These people are not listening….” By that time, the local politico had arrived and was seen lofted on his followers’ shoulders, waving to the crowd that was showering rose petals on him and raising some more slogans. A lot of us were roughly shoved aside in the mini-stampede that followed. Two more explosions were heard in the adjoining car park. One of the cops grinned, seeing the alarmed expression on my face. “ Crackers, madam, only crackers,” he assured me cheekily. I noticed his colleagues standing around listlessly. There were two or three carbine wielding commandos as well, including a strapping Sikh. I asked him in Hindi (since few locals speak or understand the ‘national’ language in Andhra Pradesh), why he had not swung into action, and how come people were lighting bombs and other dangerous fire crackers so close to the airport – a supposedly high security zone and protected area. He stared at the departing fans clambering into waiting trucks and said, “ Nobody listens to us.” I was stumped, shocked and visibly upset. I asked to meet the airport manager, who offered to get a senior police officer to ‘explain’ the situation to me. “ Please do …” I said, after calming down a little . I could see the foreigners frantically working their cell phones …. perhaps calling relatives to say it wasn’t another terror attack …. just some over- enthusiastic desi political goons celebrating another goon’s appointment. Ten minutes later, a cop arrived and spluttered, “Oh…. if the airport people had phoned earlier and warned us, I would have sent my men. But by the time they called, it was all over. Anyway….. those rascals have all gone now….” I was speechless!
Were the men who lit those firecrackers, identified and arrested? Of course not! Was the local neta held responsible for his inability to control his supporters from virtually storming the airport? You know the answer. I asked the cops if they knew what had happened to Mumbai. They nodded laconically and said, “ Yes, yes…. we saw everything on tv.” Were they not aware that the same thing could happen in Vizag - this was a high security zone…. that anybody could have hurled a grenade into the crowd…. taken the foreigners hostage? They looked at me like I was mad!! “ It does not happen like that, madam….” they smirked. Oh yes , it does. This is exactly how it happens, I all but screamed. Vishakapatnam is an important naval base, one of India’s busiest ports. There is a new international airport coming up soon. And this is the level of preparedness?? Well…. guess what? When I finally got into Mumbai’s airport at its busiest hour, there was no difference. I saw two commandos in full combat gear relaxing on a bench near the baggage console. One was digging his nose with complete concentration. The other was lost in his own thoughts. There was no pretence at any sort of alertness. The so-called security checks were as casual as before. Anybody can (and does) walk in and out of Mumbai airport even today. Photo id’s are not asked for, and the screening procedure remains lax and comical. So…. have we learnt nothing from 26\11??? What’s your reading of the situation? You’ve just got mine….
The Zoo Story in Mumbai is equally hilarious, with our wonderful Mayor, Ms. Raut happily endorsing a pricey foreign junket for corporators to study zoo conditions in various European countries!! Can you believe the absurdity it all? And (boo hoo) a few of those very same corporators cannot make it since they are unable to get their passports cleared because they have criminal records!! The real Mumbai zoo is not the one called Jijamata, but the far more entertaining one within the BMC itself.