Mumbai was attacked by professional terrorists between 26th and 28th November.
Mumbai Terror 11/26: An Account, and Some Thoughts.
Yes, I am a Mumbaikar. I live a normal, non-descript life in a small locality in South Mumbai. I have dreams and aspirations, successes and failures, problems and difficulties just like all you readers out there. However, what I really want as a citizen of the World's most populous democracy is to be allowed to live my small, non-descript and non lime-lighted life SAFELY and in PEACE.
After all, who doesn't? Even the rich and the famous want the same things. I am, in that respect at least, as ambitious or non-ambitious as they are, or the beggar on the street is. We all want to live peacefully as we journey through life, don't we? And who is to ensure that we do so? The elected representatives of the country, state, city and locality, of course.
While I am not equipped to understand which aspects of security are "central" matters, which "state" matters and which are within the ambit of the "local municipality", I am certainly sure that all of them failed to stop the three nights and two days of terror that hit Mumbai starting at or around 9:30 p.m. on the 26th of November, 2008.
I wish to state here this is solely my own work, inspired both, by the hours of sitting glued in front of the TV and watching the news channels nearly 12-16 hours a day, and by the reactions of my family and me, as we went about trying to preserve a modicum of "normalcy" in our life.
I was returning from my clinical practice when I saw a few bullet-proof jacketed policemen on the road near J.J. Hospital. Something did not seem right, and when I reached home, I learnt from a family member that there had been firing near C.S.T. railway station. You can then imagine how the next 60-70 hours must have passed. Immediately, I was there before the TV, switching on one of the news channels, and I saw the beginning moments of what became, for me and for millions of others, the worst three nights and two days of my life.
Let me hasten to say that I haven't lost any family member, or property, or had any personal assault upon my physical being, but my mind and heart have been rendered asunder by the devilish actions of the dozen or more individuals who carried out the most fiendish plan almost to perfection. Even their death must have been planned, since they were "fidayeen" who were prepared to die for what they believed was a just cause.
And what did they want? Money? Fame? Perhaps fame, but definitely not money, since they sent an email that asked the government of India to "stop atrocities" and "release all Moslems" from their grasp within jails or incarceration. They wanted the erstwhile Moslem states of India (read Kashmir, Hyderabad etc.) to be released from the sovereignty of India.
And above all, they espoused the cause of jehad.
Is this the right way to conduct jehad? I think no one will disagree with me when we say that terrorists are totally misguided about what they think should be the right form of jehad. Moslem scholars all over the world have denounced terrorism as a form of righteous jehad and condemned those who would choose physical violence as the correct way to influence the world and to change the ways of non-Moslems. I ask you: can a parent forcefully control his/her offspring? Then how can terrorists hope to seek governments to submit to their nefarious suggestions by use of brutal force?
And herein lies the paradox of the tragedy that played out in the past 72 hours in Mumbai. The terrorists came via the marine route with arms, ammunitions and explosives that were so huge in quantity that they could have possibly completely demolished all the three structures that they attacked: Hotel Taj Palace, Hotel Trident and Oberoi (which are actually two separate buildings adjacent to each other at Nariman Point) and the Nariman Building at Colaba. Their avowed plan was to do precisely that: they wanted to injure India so badly that it would never recover economically, politically, psychologically or any other way. They wanted to do all that, and also demoralize every citizen of India. And, additionally, by hitting out at 5-star hotels, they wanted to hurt Americans, Israelis, and citizens from all over the world who had come to India to enjoy its wonderful hospitality.
And, I daresay, they wanted to cock a snoot at the mighty United States of America and show them what they could do – when they wanted, with whomever they wanted.
In the next section, along with a discussion of how the actual terror played out, I am going to ask several questions to the authorities who have failed utterly. We are alive and the tragedy has passed only because of the valour and bravery of the armed forces, some of whom gave their lives to eliminate the terrorists.
It will be a long time before Mumbaikars will recover, but their hard questions will not stop.
In my earlier article, I had hinted that I would tell you about how exactly the events unfolded in Mumbai as the terrorists went about destroying the secular fabric of an already fragile metropolitan city with bomb blasts, religious rhetoric and possibly the worst Hindu-Muslim riots to ever occur in free India as a part of its shameful but chequered history.
It all started with an assault at the C.S.T. railway station on the night of 26th November. Within an hour, it had moved to Cama and Albless Hospital, situated just behind the HQ of the Brihanmumbai Mahanagarpalika (the Municipal Corporation building); and then, after the three prominent policemen lost their lives – in a small lane just behind the Cama Hospital, the chief of the anti-terrorist squad Hemant Karkare, encounter specialist Vijay Salaskar and ACP Ashok Kamte, the terrorists escaped in a stolen police jeep past Metro cinema and towards Chowpatty.
At this point, I have learnt that initially, the Mumbai police force, including the three policemen who laid down their lives (see above), did not realize that they were up against people who had not only the technical knowhow to carry out a sophisticated operation of terror or the arms and the ammunition to fulfill their ambitions of bringing a city – and indeed, a nation, to its knees, but also that they were completely emotionless and cruel to the point of being devoid of any feelings: they went about the act of killing these decorated officers with complete insouciance and no regard for their status or rank. This very fact should have, and probably did, alert the intelligentsia among the police, the strategic forces and others, that they had a big cherry on their hands and it would be some time before they could swallow and digest it.
The terrorists then probably proceeded to their three target buildings*, and planted bombs in the taxis that left them at their destinations. These bombs exploded at various locations all over Mumbai, depending on where the cabs went after leaving them; thus, one cab exploded near Dockyard road station, one at distant Vile Parle, and one near Napean Sea Road: all bombs probably activated by remote mobile-phone triggered detonators. These taxi blasts served to terrorise the entire city, and at the same time, threw red herrings about what the terrorists were up to.
The action then shifted to the three buildings – not buildings all, because two of them are five star hotels and more than that – they are landmarks of Mumbai. The Taj Palace Hotel, with over 400 rooms – located at the Gateway of India and the Trident and Oberoi hotels, located at the prestigious Nariman Point. In addition, they also targeted a non-descript building going by the name of Nariman Building – located just inside the main Shahid Bhagatsingh Road and ahead of the Colaba Market. This building is a community center for a certain sect of Jews, and also houses many Jewish families in it.
I want to ask here why they chose only these three structures and none other. I think that they realized that the two hotels would be mostly populated by foreign tourists and the third building already had Jews, traditional enemies of Moslems worldwide. Once they were inside these buildings, the next stage in their act of terror happened.
It is believed by the police that at the Taj, they had two staff from the house-keeping department, who let some of their associates in with the weapons and other things a week or two ahead of their D-day. Thus, the terrorists already had the master keys to the various sections of the hotel, the map of the hotel, and much necessary inside information about the "lie of the land" as it were. They were able to stay inside the hotel as guests, planning every single step of their coming assault. They ate, slept and played out full rehearsals of the entire plan a full week ahead!
I am pretty certain that they staked out the Oberoi in much the same way, and also visited Nariman Building and strategized everything there as well. Thus, when the actual action began, they went in with full knowledge of what they would be doing over the next few days – or more, depending on how everything panned out.
After listening to the news all over on TV and reading articles and news items, my reckoning is that Mumbai actually escaped a lot of damage only because of three reasons:
a) The terrorists lost a raft at mid-sea with hundreds of explosives and ammunition. They reached Mumbai by rafts in a boat from Karachi via Porbunder (although the last point has not yet been substantiated and the first point has been denied strongly by the Pakistani Government).
b) The NSG commandos were there quite early in action, although they still took 4 hours to reach from Delhi to Mumbai
c) The attacks began at night – or else there would have been tremendous damage at CST and in the hospitals.
It seems that the terrorists had planned on eliminating 5000 people; in the event, a loss that is much lesser in numbers is more than "compensated" by the brutal manner in which the killings took place: over 50 dead as they waited in the concourse of the railway station; entire families who were waiting to travel to their home-town were eliminated; men, women and children killed in cold blood as they sat eating in the restaurant in the Trident; employees of the hotel killed in their working places – the kitchens, the restaurants and the service areas of the Taj; and, finally, people killed on the roads of Mumbai, as the terrorists took to them en route to their own destinations.
Above all, the entire operation was carried out by the terrorists with an expertise and proficiency hitherto unseen in terrorist actions in our country and outside. Flying two planes (or four) recklessly through buildings needs average accuracy; planting bombs in busy marketplaces needs planning, but little accuracy; however, commandeering three entire buildings and mocking the hundreds of security forces with explosives while being just 3-4 in number speaks of astonishing planning and deadly accuracy. Thus, it would be fair to say that modern, hi-tech terrorism has finally arrived in India. And to expect our untrained policemen or home-guards to counter these people is sheer stupidity.
In the event, the successful termination of the attack was only thanks to the intervention of the black cat commandos and the factors already discussed above.
Where do we go from here? What does the government need to do to prevent such dastardly acts in future? I will discuss this in the last part of my article.
*This paragraph is only my version of what might have happened.
Three more days have passed since the paramilitary forces such as the National Security Guards (NSG) finally took control of one structure after the other after a struggle that lasted for nearly 60 hours. The Oberoi and Trident Hotels are not as damaged as the Taj, which took the maximum damage; Nariman Building, which, it turns out, was the command center of the terrorists and the place from where their leader watched TV news and guided his "men" on how to move and where to attack, is almost completely damaged and in danger of falling.
At the end of all this, and the investigations that are going on, the National Home Minister (similar to the Minister of Home Security in the U.S.) has resigned; so has the state-home minister. The state's chief minister has also resigned on the 3rd of December evening. People, however, believe that resignations are nothing but political ploys to defuse the peoples' anger, and as such, serve only as "palliative changes" and not as real change.
News culled from various sources have thrown out many shocking details of the terror attack: the technology used by the terrorists was state of the art, their shooting skills, superb, their strategising, totally geared to cause maximum damage, and their planning, very, very detailed. They had even created their own escape routes, should they succeed in hoodwinking the security forces. They were to return to Karachi in Pakistan - once again, by sea. Their use of advanced AK 47 machine guns, satellite phones, grenade launchers, credit and debit cards from Indian banks, Indian SIM mobile phone cards, motorised rafts, false maritime licences, etc. point to an amazing level of planning, and correspondlingly, an amazing lack of intelligence by Indian authorities. It has become evident that their boat was challenged in the Mumbai waters by the Coast Guard, but they were let off once they showed the licences, which were forged = professionally.
On the eve of the 3rd of December, more than a lakh people, angered at the lack of proper security and the insensitiveness of the politician-class, lit candles and gathered en masse at the Gateway of India, just adjacent to the cordoned-off Taj Mahal Palace and Tower. Some of the men and women were celebrities, and had come to the spot because they felt passionately about the issue, but the vast majority were common Mumbaikars who were there to show the victims' families that they were with them at this hour of personal grief and tragedy; they wanted to display that they were Indians first; they wanted to tell off the politicians and bureaucrats who had failed the nation; and finally, they wanted to unite with each other and rise above the parochialism of caste and class. I was there, too, and felt a sense of terrible loss but also a sense of unity and pride in the spirit of Mumbaikars, who had finally had enough and wanted firm and decisive corrective action by the government.
As I write this on the eve of the fourth, I wish to say that two more bombs have been found, containing the lethal RDX, at two different locations visited by the terrorists on the night of the 26th, on two different days - yesterday and today. These bombs remained unexploded, probably due to some error, or else, they would have caused still more deaths and tragedy.
More than 180 dead ... and the nation continues to mourn. Mumbai is back to normal, but it is not the normal normal that I have seen earlier. People are subdued, they are morose, not joking or enjoying life as usual. The wounds of the dastardly attacks will take a long time to heal, and the scars may never fade from the memory of the present generation of Mumbaikars. Questions still remain to be answered, but that is another story.