Angry Mumbai Wants Answers, Changes,Mumbai Updated Terrorist Attack

December 1, 2008

angry_mumbaiThe candlelight procession that drew hundreds of Mumbai residents out onto Marine Drive Sunday was more than just a symbolic gesture of solidarity with those who had died or lost loved ones in the three-day terror attack. The marchers were expressing their defiance in the face of those who had come to kill, but also their anger at the authorities for failing to protect their city, and at leaders seeking political advantage from the tragedy. Amid the mounting outrage at the authorities, the central government’s Home Minister, Shivraj Patil — already under pressure in the wake of previous attacks — resigned, claiming moral responsibility for that failure.

Terror attacks in India have increased in scale and frequency over the past decade. This year alone, the country’s biggest cities — New Delhi, Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Jaipur, among others — have suffered bomb blasts that have killed hundreds of people. Mumbai, the country’s financial centre, was attacked in a series of bombing in 1993 that killed 257 people, and again in the 2006 train bombings that killed 184. Each time, the city has dusted itself off and gotten back to work, bouyed by the seemingly indomitable “Mumbai spirit”. But this time, however, the Mumbaikers aren’t in a rush to restore normalcy  they want answers and they want changes.

“We’ve been attacked before,” says Rohini Ramanathan, a radio talk-show host whose morning program has been flooded with emotional phone calls from listeners reacting to the massacre. “But after these recent attacks, people are saying let’s not pretend everything’s alright. We don’t need to make a show of the Mumbai spirit when what we need now is to make sure this will not be forgotten, all will not be normal again.”

The overwhelming sentiment among many residents is one of having been let down. “Mumbai has been a bad scene for so many years,” says Sheetal Javeri, an administration professional, emerging from CST, the railway terminal struck by terrorists on Wednesday night. “But the government has taken no steps. If five-star hotels can be targetted so easily, where is the common man to go?” She has little option but to use the commuter rail line despite attacks on trains and the station. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t fear for my safety, or my family’s safety. They still don’t know how many terrorists there were, and how many may still be at large.” Trisha Sethi, a media professional, agrees: “We’re looking over our shoulders now. We’re judging people now.”

Each new detail that emerges about the city’s three-day ordeal points to  multiple failures of the security agencies — failure to intercept and heed intelligence; failure to contain the terrorists and the damage they were able to inflict; and failure to capture more than one alive in order to ascertain their identity, motives, origins and affiliation. But these failures are neither startling nor new. Indian security experts have for decades pointed at the need for a better intelligence-gathering system right from the police post up. They have pointed out that India needs more police officers — at the moment, the country has 122 cops for every 100,000 people, as against the U.N.-mandated norm of at least 222. And no more than 1.5% of police personnel are dedicated to intelligence duties.

So, for many Mumbai residents, the question is whether and how fast the authorities will repair the intelligence and security system to withstand the challenges of the 21st century. “The terrorists have accomplished what they wanted,” says Niranjan Ashar, who lives a few metres from CST. “We need to know what the government is going to do to make us feel safer. We need to know what systems they will devise. How will they ensure such an attack will never happen again.”

Eighty-year-old Behram Contractor loves the city that his Parsi community has played a vital role in building. “The Taj was built by a Parsi, because the big hotel, The Watson, wouldn’t let Indians in,” he says. But the city’s politicians have lost his confidence. “Today Mumbai lies shattered, because it is ruled by people with no conscience,” he says, referring to the blame game currently on between the ruling Congress Party and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). On Novermber 28, while Mumbai was still in the grip of terror, the BJP a campaign ad for state elections in Delhi that said: “Brutal terror strikes at will. Weak government: unwilling and incapable.” Mumbai residents have also expressed disdain over political leaders’ and parties’ banners across Mumbai “saluting” slain police officials, with their sponsors’ names mentioned prominently underneath.

While censure for the government is a common theme in the wake of terror attacks, some also believe Mumbai’s people will have to lead a movement for change. Asit Bhansali is a financial advisor who has lived in his Marine Drive home for over 40 years. “Normally, Mumbai has a dog-eat-dog mentality, there’s no emotion, it’s all about making money,” he says, “But this time, the threat is too serious and too real… Now, we need change, we need to look beyond ‘my life, my family, my business’. Someone’s got to push this change, and it has to be us.” As Ramanathan has been telling her radio listerners: “Start with getting your voter registration. Start by voting.” Of course, it’s precisely that expected backlash at the polls that politicians are positioning themselves to exploit.

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One Response to “Angry Mumbai Wants Answers, Changes,Mumbai Updated Terrorist Attack”

  1. JJ Says:

    I hope that the Indian people know that whatever Reverend Jeremiah Wright says it doesn’t represent the views of all of America. Lots of us in America see Jeremiah Wright as a source of shame and view him with contempt.

    I don’t feel that this is a case of India’s chickens coming home to roost. Lots of us in America would be appalled at hearing Reverend Jeremiah Wright say “God Damn India”.

    It really concerns me that such a low life is so close to our President-elect.


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