On 26 November, terrorists struck India’s financial capital — Mumbai — in one of the most brazen attacks ever seen in India. They entered the city through the sea route, striking at the Victoria Terminus, Leopold Cafe, and Cama Hospital first. In this first strike, the nation lost three of its best police officers — Anti-terrorism squad chief Hemant Karkare, encounter specialist Vijay Salaskar and Additional Commissioner of Police Ashok Kamte.
The terrorists then proceeded to take two high-profile hotels — the iconic Taj Mahal hotel and the Oberoi-Trident — and Nariman House (also known as Chabad House) hostage. The siege, which lasted almost 60 hours, claimed the life of the rabbi and his wife, leaving their young son an orphan.
This latest and most brazen attack, which the media dubbed India’s 9/11, has horrified the nation. For three days Indians sat glued to their television, in mute horror, watching the drama unfold on television. We watched, helpless, as the terrorists set fire to the heritage Taj Mahal hotel, we cringed as we heard gun shots and grenade blasts ring out, we watched with bated breath as NSG commandoes engaged the terrorists, and we cried when we heard about the number of hostages who are killed, and as we saw some hostages released. Once it was all over, though, we became a nation angry. This time we will not call upon “the spirit of Mumbai.” This time we want to see political action. Platitudes will not work anymore.
But, this is India.
Politicization of the attack
On day 1 of the attack, leader of the opposition L.K. Advani said he would work together with the UPA government and not use this event as a political campaign point. The next day, he forgot all about his promise and the BJP released full page color ads politicizing the issue. Its leaders like Rajasthan CM Vasundhra Raje are using the Mumbai siege as a topic to gain political mileage.
Then we have other politicians that give a gem of a soundbyte. Sample this:
Some women wearing lipstick and powder have taken to streets in Mumbai and are abusing politicians spreading dissatisfaction against democracy. This is what terrorists are doing in Jammu and Kashmir. These are difficult times for the nation. In times like this we should unite in our war against terror and the Pak sponsored attacks rather than waging war against the democratic institutions.
This, gem of a quote was given by the BJP’s Mukhtar Naqvi, his view of the candle light vigils being held in Mumbai and elsewhere around the country condeming the terror attack.
PM Manmohan Singh called for Pakistan to send ISI chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha to New Delhi to present him with hard evidence about the involvement of Pakistani elements, including Lashkar-e Toiba (LeT) terrorists, in the Mumbai strike. After agreeing initially, Pakistan refused to send his over. Now, Zardari is saying that there is no evidence that the terrorists were Pakistanis, and even if they were, they are stateless elements and Pakistan can do nothing about it. This, despite India having given them evidence of ISI involvement in the attack. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to India was also make to placate India and to ensure that we do not take military action against Pakistan. If we do, their war on terror will be affected, as they are using that country as the base from which to launch attacks on Afghanistan.
The attacks also point to a total intelligence failure, with agencies initially claiming they had no evidence about the attacks. Later, though, it became apparent that they simply ignored the evidence that they did get. Fishermen had submitted written letters stating there was suspicious activity at ports. Fishermen in Gujarat also reported that Indian trawlers were crossing over into Pakistani waters, meeting trawlers there, and coming back into Indian waters without being arrested. After repeated requests to improve safety at the Gateway of India, stating the sea route could be used for an attack, one police van and two policemen were stationed in the area. On the day of the attack, this motley security was also missing.
All of this points to the fact that this attack couldnt have been carried out without political sanction. This is not to say that the politicians were involved in it, but just that they chose to ignore warning signs and ensure the saftey of civilians. The reason? Simple. Political gains.
One of the stories that really stayed with me was related by a foreign couple who had come to India on a 1-month holiday. They were happy to be safe, praised the commandoes, and said that they had no plans to cut their trip short. Though the wife got teary while relating their terror while they were held hostage, her husband said that this episode would just serve as a road bump to their plans, they did not plan to give in to fear.
You cannot give into fear, or you let the terrorists win. When they are holding a gun to your head, that is the time to feel fear. But to let fear rule your life is to let them win. And I will not let that happen.
Isn’t this the mantra to live by?