Rumour has it that the last two days were holidays, a weekend even. For a lot of south Mumbai, however, there was no rest because inquiring minds, who have become addicted to the phrase “Breaking News” by the news channels, now need to crack the case, especially since the Deccan Mujahideen has sent a second email promising more attacks. Exactly what happened this past week in south Mumbai? Who did it and why? What makes sense and how do you explain all the things that don’t? And, crucially, is Café Leopold really open? (Ans: No. But hopefully, they will be today.)
Most of us feel uneasy about the number of things that don’t add up and the questions that Mumbai’s latest terrorist episode raises, both in terms of how it was carried out and how it was dealt with. It’s glaringly obvious that the systems we have in place are wretched and, worst of all, can be used to make an emergency worse rather than better. Intelligence reports appear to have warned of an attack with the perpetrators coming in by sea and both Oberoi and Taj had informed the government of threats against them but no one paid any attention. Low water pressure meant fire hoses sputtered when the Taj was on fire. Firemen waited around for a permission from the police to approach the sites and in another case, it appears they decided to let a family die rather than use the hydraulic ladder without securing the necessary permission. The commandos who ultimately saved the day were transported to the locations in BEST buses, which look like they’re made of tin cans that have been kicked around, stamped upon and then beaten flat. The list is almost as long as the doubts that many are feeling post-event. The media is gushing about how Azam Amir Kasav/ Ajmal Ameer Kasav (whatever his name is) is spilling them beans like an exploding beanbag but it’s worth noting that he isn’t telling us anything that we shouldn’t be able to piece together considering the number of clues that have been left behind at every step of the operation (the boat they used complete with corpses, the dinghies with explosives, paying for a meal at Leopold and buying milk near Nariman House, etc.). Not just that, he’s dropping names that we want to hear – Lashkar-e-Toiba and Dawood, for starters. The latest is that Kasav has now decided to go on hunger strike – all resemblances to Gandhi are purely accidental, I’m sure – and is saying nothing.
There have been reports that the plan for Mumbai wasn’t limited to the Taj, Trident and Chabad House in Nariman House but also a couple more sites, including Malabar Hill (one of the city’s poshest neighbourhoods and the Governor of Maharashtra’s address). As investigations get underway, it’s been discovered that there were RDX bombs around the Taj and Oberoi which would have resulted in severe damage and, according to the Times of India, let the terrorists escape as tourists. There’s no guarantee they didn’t anyway because it’s a bit difficult to believe only 2-4 men held off that many security forces for so long. There are also whispers about the active involvement from certain Indian politicians and police personnel. It could be just a malicious rumour but the fact is that these three days have improved the Opposition’s chances in the forthcoming elections a hundredfold. Plus, with Hemant Karkare dead, who knows how the investigation of the Malegaon blasts will conclude (Karkare said that evidence pointed to the the bomb blasts being a Hindu fundamentalist plot rather than an Islamist one, earning himself the ire of the BJP).
Meanwhile on tv, the issues are a little different. Political leaders are quitting or threatening to quit at an alarming frequency. We might have to call in the National Security Guard to run the country too at this rate. Everyone wants to know where Raj Thackeray of the MNS and Bal and Uddhav Thackeray of the Shiv Sena are, because the commandos who saved aamchi Mumbai (“My Mumbai” in Marathi) were from all over the country. I’d suggest everyone hold on a little because no doubt these gents will be out with their anti-Muslim rhetoric the moment there is some concrete proof that the terror plot originated in Pakistan. Or perhaps they don’t care; Colaba is, after all, perhaps the most cosmopolitan neighbourhood in the city. The talking heads on tv are figures like erstwhile actress Simi Garewal who now has more Botox than blood in her veins and suggests we follow the American example and go to war. “They haven’t had a terror attack since,” she pointed out triumphantly. This is true but they’d also not had one before that. We, on the other hand, were birthed with terrorist attacks thanks to Partition and, even if Ms. Garewal is unaware of this, Kashmir has been a war zone for decades now. There’s outrage bubbling forth, justifiably, at the Chief Minister (soon to be ousted) seeing the gutted Taj with his actor son and a director in tow. Not just that, the ex-Deputy Chief Minister RR Patil (he resigned this morning) said to the press, “In a big city like this, these small things happen. We could have lost 5,000 people instead of 200.” I wonder whether the Deccan Mujahideen sent its email after seeing the idiotic jingoism of our politicians and celebrities. If they did, I can almost relate.
It’s difficult to gauge how seriously the second email should be taken because Al Quaeda, for example, regularly releases videos promising attacks and terror which don’t end up happening. However, in case of the mysterious Deccan Mujahideen, there’s at least 8 of them unaccounted for and, more worryingly, in Mumbai they’ve seen precisely how our emergency and crisis management systems operate.
Here’s the astonishing part about Mumbai – even as shots staccatoed around Colaba and journos declared that the city was under seige, everyone who wasn’t within earshot of grenades and automatic weapons shopped, went out for dinner, met for drinks. Everyone within a certain income bracket knows someone who was in the Taj or the Trident but most have gathered to exchange stories of how they themselves could have been there but weren’t. Those below that income bracket are as perturbed as the socialite set was when the local trains were bombed in 2006 – fleetingly sympathetic but largely unperturbed. There was little of the outrage we’re seeing now on the tv back then. It was over in a flash and for the posh set, who are leading the media campaign this time, it could have happened in another country. They and their cloisters didn’t feel threatened. Neither, it seems, do those who wouldn’t step into the Taj for anything other than employment. Dadar Market teemed with bright-eyed people who haggled cheerfully for colourful wares yesterday. Gents pulled out their suits and ladies took out their diamonds to attend ostentatious weddings at Rizvi College in Khar and at the grounds on Marine drive. Yesterday I went from Gowalia Tank (south-central Mumbai) to Bandra (the first of the suburbs) at 11.45pm and there wasn’t a single cop or barricade on my route. It was as though nothing had happened.