Amidst the shards of glass, bullet-strewn walls, the blood on the floor and the carnage of what was once the iconic Taj reception and lobby, television cameras picked up the surreal image of a lone porcelain vase — resolutely standing intact and upright — a silent sentinel to the mind-numbing havoc that had visited the hotel only hours earlier. It became the defiant symbol of a wounded but courageous city.
It is not difficult to relate to the anger and the emotional backlash of Mumbai’s civic and societal leaders at the monumental systemic failure of the intelligence and security agencies that had been entrusted with the responsibility of protecting this great Indian city. Mumbai has suffered grievous assaults on its person many times before. But nothing in its recent history compares to the shock and awe of the one carried out last week.
In a few swift clinically executed chilling manoeuvres, a band of armed men devastated the pulsating rhythm of one of the world’s most vibrant cities, holding its unsuspecting inhabitants hostage, leaving dead, dying and mourning, hundreds of tourists along with Mumbai’s cosmopolitan elite and the polyglot population that make up this great city. True, Mumbai has been violently traumatised many times before but this multi-pronged attack was unparalleled in its scope and its single-mindedness to indiscriminately kill, maim and terrorise a city gifted with the bravest of hearts.
Not surprisingly, its outraged populace has openly come out to lay the blame on its politicians and thugs that hold sway for having callously pandered away Mumbai’s security, integrity and its pluralistic well-being at the alter of narrow-mindedness and self-interest.
That “enough no more” rallying cry has found resonance across a wide spectrum of Mumbai’s citizenry and marks an end to the eyes wide shut attitude they have stoically put up with while enduring the insidious, the parochial, the bigoted and the violent.
Its politicians, predictably, are quick to point the finger at neighbouring Pakistan for this horrendous act, ignoring the fact that Pakistan itself is reeling from the savagery of similar attacks in its own cities and suddenly finds itself on the back-foot struggling to defend itself from the relentless finger pointing, to say nothing of the merciless venom of some of India’s defence analysts and commentators.
Beyond the jingoistic chest-thumping and the blame-game that follows every such Indian tragedy suffered at the hands of perpetrators of different hues — Muslim, Christian, Sikh and Hindu — there is the unmistakable and rising spectre of India’s ethnic divide.
As the pall of gloom slowly lifts and Mumbai gets back to picking up the threads of its life, the blame-game starts taking on a different cadence as new facts start to surface. It is now almost certain that warnings of an imminent terrorist attack had been circulating for almost two months before the 26/11 attacks took place. The chairman of the Tata Group, which owns the Taj in Mumbai, was informed — as was probably the management of the Oberoi — to expect an assault on his hotel and that the threat was imminent.
Mr Tata admits that he took measures to augment the security in and around the hotel but as the expected attack did not materialise around the expected date, the terrorist alert was in all probability scaled down. Terrorists unlike hotel guests, rarely announce the exact date and time of their arrival.
It is incomprehensible how — despite these warnings — the authorities that were in possession of such specific information as to which areas were to be hit were unable or unwilling to take adequate counter-measures to thwart the attacks or to safeguard their unsuspecting populace. Even more surprising is the utter lack of initiative on the Indian Government’s part of sharing that intelligence with their counterparts in Pakistan, who they are now holding responsible for this reprehensible act.
The Pakistani Foreign Minister was in New Delhi on that fateful day, ostensibly to further plans to “work together” with his counterparts. Why was he not informed of the “chatter’ the Indian authorities were picking up? Or did they think that he was a security risk as well?
In the days and weeks to come as more facts surface or are allowed to surface, the flawed rationale of “these terrorists being Muslims” alone is not going to fly. Pakistan is a Muslim country and its biggest nightmare is that it is being torn apart — its people terrorised, its armed forces attacked, not by some heathen horde but by people who call themselves Muslims as well.
The religious persuasion of a merchant of death has little to do with his programming and more to do with his misguided motivation. Everybody wants to go to heaven. It’s just that there are some who are willing not just to kill but to die trying to get there.
It is easy to take the moral high-ground and “demand” the unacceptable of your adversary simply because you are the aggrieved party and have a larger orchestra to sound off from. But in the final analysis it is not just the size of the orchestra but the fidelity of the sound that matters.
Once the sound and the fury have subsided somewhat, perhaps the hawks and the jingo janta in India grasp the wisdom of the truism: where diatribe won’t work, dialogue might just.
Nothing that the two countries do will diminish the morale of the perpetrators of such barbaric acts than to deny them the satisfaction of holding two great nations hostage.
I am human enough and perhaps even sanguine enough to still “see things not as they are but as they ought to be”.
Mahmud Sipra is a best selling author and an independent columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com
Reproduced by permission of the Author and DT