26th November 2008, will go down in Mumbai’s history as a black day. It was the day that terror struck Mumbai again. Late yesterday night, reports started emerging that there were shots fired in South Mumbai. In a little while news trickled in that this was a terrorist attack of the likes that India had never seen before.

The Attacks
India, of late has been suffering a wave of bombings and terrorist acts in cities. This latest terrorist act has further escalated the scale and scope of the attacks.
Terrorists came to Mumbai via the sea route on a small rubber motorboat. The boat was allegedly launched from a trawler called the MV Alpha. The terrorists, armed to the teeth with automatic weapons and grenades, got off from the boat at Gateway of India and headed off in different directions. In a few minutes later, the terrorists launched attacks at prominent landmarks like Taj, Oberoi as well as stormed Nariman house and fired indiscriminately at CST station. Attacks were also reported at Leopold Cafe, Metro cinema etc. In fact the terrorists even commandeered a police vehicle and opened fire from the vehicle at Metro cinema. Bomb blasts in taxis were also reported from Mazgaon docks and Vile Parle (near the airport). The terrorists seemed to be operating with clockwork precision and following some well thought out plan. By midnight, they had taken hostages in the Taj and Oberoi hotels and Nariman Bhavan.

The Response
The initial response was by the Mumbai Police with help from the Rapid Action Force (RAF). Some 14 police personnel were killed. These include top ranking officials like the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) chief, Hemant Karkare; Encounter specialist, Vijay Salaskar and Additional Commissioner Ashok Kamte. Two terrorists were shot dead by the police near Girgaum. Later on the Indian Army, National Security Guard (NSG) and Marine Commandos (MARCOS) were pressed into action. Their combing and flushing operations were on for the entire day. As of now, the Taj is reportedly completely sanitized, while operations are on in the Oberoi and Nariman Plaza. In another development, in a joint operation by the Coast Guard, Navy and Border Security Forces (BSF) managed to nab the MV Alpha and another ship before they escaped Indian waters. The death toll at the end of this – 125 dead, 327 injured and fast rising.

This attack stands out from all others before it, in the brazen manner that it was executed. Clearly the group who executed it was well funded, trained and equipped. The calm and almost matter-of-fact manner in which the terrorists attacked CST (as caught on camera in Mumbai Mirror) is extremely chilling, sent a shiver down my spine. The manner in which they tried to seek out foreign nationals to either kill or take hostage, shows their intent to tarnish the image of Mumbai as a relatively safe and cosmopolitan city. The blast at Vile Parle seems to be an isolated CNG explosion in a Taxi, an unfortunate accident. However I guess time will tell if this hunch of mine is correct.

Kudos to the press though for the relentless coverage of the event and for raising some hard questions. There were some really dumb moments though.

TV Screen: A woman peering out from a large window, from a high floor of the Oberoi.
TV Anchor: That woman is peering out, from what appears to be a rather large window.

C’mon, this ain’t radio, we can see. Though jokes apart, the media in general has been quite good in its coverage.

Kudos to the brave men in uniform, especially the Mumbai Police force. The TV screens here still show shots of the ATS chief donning on a rather flimsy bulletproof jacket and helmet and heading out to what was soon to be his death. It takes enormous courage to head out to certain death, armed with archaic weapons. The NSG, MARCOS, Army and Navy have been extremely professional in the manner in which they conducted the operations. A big thank you to them for putting their lives in harms way for us civilians.

Now that the bouquets are out of the way, time for some brickbats.

  1. Sections of the media were raising questions as to why it should take so long to clear the buildings, raising doubts on the capabilities of the armed forces. I really don’t know what these people expect. The Taj for instance has about 800 rooms and the Oberoi near about 360 rooms. Clearing those vast numbers meticulously is certainly going to take time.
    One of my favorite game franchises is Rainbow Six, where clearing even a few floors would take near about 15-30 minutes , that too with pin-point accurate intelligence, and fancy features like auto-aim and no “real ” lives at stake. Now imagine what these commandos are faced with, especially when there are lives at stake and zero intelligence.
  2. Coming to intelligence, a common grouse is that our intelligence apparatus isn’t efficient. However, people need to realise that gathering intelligence on terrorists is a nightmare, especially when they operate in isolated cells. After all there is little one can do when information is confined in the heads of the terrorists and isn’t anywhere accessible. There is only so far that one can get with SigInt (Signal Intelligence) and HumInt (Human Intelligence). Even the US, with arguably the best intelligence setup in the world, couldn’t catch Osama Bin Laden.
  3. Which brings me to another comment being passed on how the US has not lost lives in terrorist attacks on its soil post 9/11. That’s like saying Antarctica is terrorist free. I think the important point being missed here is that the US is isolated geographically from the rest of the world with relatively friendly neighbors on its borders (unlike India). In fact post 9/11 most of the attacks have happened either in Asia or Europe.
  4. Now another thing the TV channels keep talking about is Mumbai’s “Spirit”. I think, as many people have rightly pointed out in the past, this view that the city will get up, dust itself and resume life like nothing happened due to some underlying soul or ethos is like a mirage and takes things in the wrong perspective. People here get back to life because they have to earn to live and they cannot stop living because some terrorists attacked the city. The economic costs of succumbing to terror are high and its purely “commercial” motivations that keep the city ticking and not some noble spirit. I think Naseeruddin Shah summed it up quite well in the movie “A Wednesday” when he said:

    We are resilient by force not by choice

  5. Suheil Sheth made some very hard hitting points in a program on the issue on Times Now. He called all politicians a bunch of wimps. Mr.Seth’s righteous indignation at the whole issue (afterall he had a close call when he missed the entire episode at the Taj) was understandable as was the stand taken by the other guests. In fact Alyque Padamsee even wanted to file a PIL against the intelligence wings of the government. However, I believe that the time for meaningless posturing is over. I’d like to request all these “celebrity/intellectual” guests – If you genuinely care for what happened, stop blaming all and sundry for what transpired and do something about. Mr. Seth if you think those wimps have gotten us into this situation, why don’t you change that ? After all we live in a democracy, governments can be changed and elections are less than a year away, so why don’t you run for Prime Minister ? If you do, you certainly have my vote !!!

What can be done – the way forward
I think a few measures can definitely be taken that would foil further such attempts in the future:

  1. Threat Matrix: We need to start thinking like terrorists. We need to explore every possible scenario for an terrorist attack and find ways to neutralize them and put those means into action.
  2. Train, Train and Train some more: We need our civilians and police forces trained and ready to respond to such further threats at a moments notice. Only regular drills can accomplish this.
  3. Police Reforms:Our police forces are in urgent need of upgraded equipment and facilities. How can they be expected to combat terror with weapons that are hopelessly out-of-date, and equipment that malfunctions frequently? We seriously need to ensure that our police forces are equipped to deal with this in the future.
  4. Armed forces:The armed forces need to be given their due. We cannot expect our armed forces to lay their lives on the line for sub-standard wages, and for having to even fight for those wages.
  5. The MANTIS: I propose the creation of a special anti-terror squad, drawing from police and various special forces to be permanently based in Mumbai to respond to such terror acts in the future. In case you are wondering what MANTIS stands for, MANTIS is the Mumbai ANti-Terror Intervention Squad (An acronym cooked up by yours truly)
  6. Ever Vigilant:Lastly I cannot stress enough the importance of staying ever vigilant. That’s what will help us the next time round.

Lastly, it remains to be seen what response the government of India gives to this attack. Will India continue to remain a “soft” state or will we evolve a more hard-line approach with an organization like the Israeli Mossad, tracking down and liquidating terrorists wherever there may be. The Prime Minister has said that those responsible for the attacks will pay a very heavy price. Paraphrasing “A Wednesday” all I have to say is that the question that the terrorists are asking is:

Bhai, hum to tumhein aise hi maarenge, tum kya kar loge ?
(Translation: We will continue to kill you in this manner, what will you do ?)

What will you do Mr.Prime Minister, what will you do ?

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  1. kaviraj says:

    good post buddy….nice and clear…keep going…

  2. Surima says:

    hi Elroy,

    Thanks for the list of measures, if only they’re actually taken up.

    Though I would like to point out that no. 3&4 are actually issues that Mr. Seth very eloquently put forward on the Times Now show, so at least give him credit for that. I think he is bringing about the change he can, at least stepping up and recognizing where we lack instead of many many people (politicians, govt. and police officials and also media) who are failing to do so. As a citizen we have certain rights and duties and I would say Mr. Seth just exercised his freedom of speech to convey what Indian citizens feel. One can’t expect the whole of Indian population to participate in elections just because there is a general dissatisfaction as to how the country is being governed. You voice a lot of opinions in this blog, are you considering a political career??
    All one expects is that when you say you want our votes, at least prove it in times of crisis that you deserved it and if not us,at least some people made the right decision by voting for you. We’ve been let down far too many times.

    In response to your: “In fact Alyque Padamsee even wanted to file a PIL against the intelligence wings of the government. However, I believe that the time for meaningless posturing is over. I’d like to request all these “celebrity/intellectual” guests – If you genuinely care for what happened, stop blaming all and sundry for what transpired and do something about.”

    Doesn’t filing a PIL in your opinion qualify as actually doing “something about it”???

    Again going back to your accusation of Mr. Seth not doing anything to change the situation, the fact that you mention the Spirit of Mumbai and how things are taken in the wrong perspective,is also something Mr. Seth criticized in the show, again proves that he is already bringing about change questioning this idea that is often glorified to console the people of Mumbai. He definitely made you think!

    Again good list of measures but let’s see if this will ever reach the right people or would you need to be an “intellectual/celebrity” to be heard??

    Everyone has a role to play, people, social and political agencies, media and also movies. Let’s not think life is a movie, even though it may become so unbelievable that it might seem like one. And even though there are lessons to be learned we have to see them in our context and use them realistically. Finally, I think the government, politicians, media, army, other special bodies and the people need to work together. It is good to identify the problems, at least offer an alternative point of view, have an opinion but then we should all come together find solutions.

  3. enygmatic says:

    Hi Surima,
    Thanks for the long comment. You made some excellent points. First of all I have immense respect for Mr.Seth, he did indeed mention points 3 & 4, but it’s something that’s been ailing the police force in Mumbai for quite some time now. In fact, I used to cringe every time I passed a police checkpoint in Mumbai, on seeing the archaic weapons that the constables are armed with, wondering what would happen if they came across a well armed criminal.
    What I strongly feel is that we need people like Mr.Seth, Mr. Padamsee, people of professional caliber and capability to lead this country. (Its something both of them repeatedly stated, ironically neither was willing to put their money where their mouth was). Mind you this isn’t a personal attack on Mr.Seth or anyone for that matter, just a reaction to the endless stream of complaints of a broken, flawed system. The entire point of democracy is to embrace change and continuously change in a manner that best benefits the people, and elections are a mechanism to bring about change when the system is broken.

    On the PIL, in my opinion, filing a PIL for something of this nature and saying I’ve done my bit, is like check book philanthropy – you can only achieve so much, at best a symbolic victory (which will be soon forgotten. If you want to test this statement, recount any 10 PILs that brought about real change without resorting to Google).

    And as far as my comments on Mumbai’s spirit goes I don’t need Mr.Seth to tell me that, its something I’ve had a very personal experience with in 2003.

    And also, this blog is a platform to air my views. I really don’t care if it ever reaches the right people or not, so yes, I don’t need a “celebrity/intellectual” to endorse me. Lastly, you mentioned that “Mr. Seth just exercised his freedom of speech”, do I not have the same right? Or do I need to have political ambitions to do so?

    Anyway, here’s hoping that this entire incident serves as a much needed wake up call and some good comes out of it for our nation.