Why Mumbai Needs a Mayor

The Consequences of India's Hands-Off Democracy

The three bomb blasts that hit Mumbai during rush hour on July 13 highlighted both India's endemic vulnerability to terrorist violence and the serious deficiencies in its security infrastructure that must be addressed to keep the country safe.

Since 2003, Mumbai has suffered four major terrorist attacks, including one in November 2008, during which terrorists killed 164 and injured 308. Although Mumbai seemed to return to normal the day after the most recent bombings (they were relatively small, killing 24 and injuring 131 more), it is hard to live in the city, or have friends and family living there, without feeling that the country's national and state governments are simply unable to fulfill India's security needs. To be sure, defending a city in India from terrorism is a task more Herculean than defending London or New York City. Mumbai is an endless sprawl of millions; the state can hardly provide basic services, let alone protect its citizens. And most astonishingly, Mumbai, like other major Indian cities, does not even have a mayor with the authority and resources to try.

The biggest problem regarding security is the structural division between the national and local governments. The official report on the 2008 attacks criticized them both for failing to maintain ready and capable police forces. It also highlighted the lack of coordination among the police, intelligence agencies, and government once the attacks were under way. Nearly three years later, the Mumbai security forces appeared to have been no better prepared to prevent terrorist attacks.

Within hours of the blasts, Prithviraj Chavan, the chief minister of Maharashtra, the state in which Mumbai is located, claimed that the national government had never cleared a 2008 request from the Mumbai police (which he supervises as the chief executive authority of the state) for 5,000 closed-circuit cameras. The televisions may not have prevented the July 13 attacks but would have aided the investigation of them. He also claimed that he was in the state government offices during the explosions along with other senior officials and "felt so helpless when I could not get across to the police chief, as all lines were jammed. We need to upgrade the communication system."

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