By Stig Toft Madsen
The attack on Mumbai last week came after a series of attacks on other Indian cities. Shortly after the attack, a hitherto unknown group “Deccan Mujahidin” took the responsibility. Because the attack on Mumbai followed the attacks to which the “Indian Mujahidin” had owed responsibility, many commentators initially connected the two groups, tracing both of them to the better-known organisation called SIMI (The Students Islamic Movement of India).With the discovery that the group of attackers had apparently reached Mumbai by sea and that they may have communicated in Punjabi (which is spoken by only a few Indian Muslims), the needle of suspicion started turning towards Pakistan. The lone surviving attacker confirmed this track of thinking by apparently admitted that the whole team of gunmen had reached India from Karachi after receiving training by the Lashkar-e-Toiba. The Lashkar-e-Toiba has for many years been in the forefront of the jihad in Indian Kashmir. It is also suspected of having (or having had) strong links to the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI and to the al Qaida. Unlike the Taliban, which thrives in Pashtun dominated areas, the Lashkar-e-Toiba has its headquarters close to Lahore in the Punjab.Indian news media further submitted that Mumbai gangsters may have helped the team of attackers as they landed on the shores in Mumbai. This brought the name of Dawood Ibrahim back to the headlines. Together with other smugglers, Dawood Ibrahim is strongly suspected of having organized the serial bomb attack in Bombay in March 1993, an attack which was described as “The World’s Worst” by the Frontline magizine The locations of these bombings in chronological order were:
Bombay Stock Exchange
Narsi Natha Street
A petrol pump near the Shiv Sena headquarter in Dadar
Gopal Nagar Worli, near the passport office
Air India’s building at Nariman Point
Zaveri Bazar outside a well-known jeweller’s store
Plaza Cinema, Dadar
Sea Rock Hotel
Centaur Hotel, near Santa Cruz airport
Centaur Hotel, Juhu,
and Machchimar Colony, Mahim (hand grenades)
In other words, the present attack on Mumbai has awakened a range of enemies of the state in the public mind and the official mind in India.
This has lead Indians to speak of “India’s 9/11”.
The attack on the USA on September 11, 2001 was the first of its kind on US soil since Pearl Harbour. The attack on Mumbai last week was not the first on its soil. In terms of causalities, the Bombay blasts in 1993 probably caused more death. However, the comparison does make sense for at least two reasons.
The attack on the US on September 11, 2001 made the US confront Pakistan, which for years had supported the Taliban regime that gave shelter to Al Qaida in Afghanistan. The day after the attack, the ISI chief (who happened to be in Washington DC) was called to a meeting where he faced Richard Armitage. Armitage demanded that Pakistan make its position on terror clear. Pakistan complied with US demands and joined the war on terror. However, the Pakistani interpretation of what that meant focussed on Al Qaida. The Taliban was not subjected to an all-out attack by the Pakistani military, and as regards the many jihadist groups found practically all over Pakistan, Pakistan did even less to curtail their activities. Nevertheless, Pakistan did scale down its subversive activities on its eastern sector, and from 2002 onwards the relations between India and Pakistan markedly improved. The Pakistani election this year promised further improvement. It is this improvement, which “India’s 9/11” may now jeopardize. Just as the US talked tough to then ISI chief, India apparently was about to do the same to the current ISI chief until his visit to India was called off. Just as US went on the offensive, Indian politicians are now under pressure to act tough.
The phrase “India’s 9/11” also makes sense in an entirely different way. The attack on the World Trade Centre hit many people so hard because it took place on an iconic building in a metropolitan city killing and wounding people of diverse backgrounds, including the wealthy. Similarly, the attack in Mumbai hit iconic buildings in a metropolitan city killing and wounding people of diverse backgrounds, including the wealthy.
In Mumbai, the attack hit ordinary people at the main railway station journeying to and from the Konkan or the Deccan. A Jewish institution was singled out for murder and mayhem. Further, the attack was aimed at hotels and restaurants at Nariman Point and Colaba. Hotels and restaurants may attract the attention of terrorists, because the many unsuspecting people gathering there are easy targets. At both the Taj, the Oberoi and in Leopold Café many guests were likely to be non-Indians. The terrorists apparently were out to kill Americans and the British. But apart from offering potential high-value targets, some buildings in themselves may attract terrorists.
The pictures of the Taj at fire will probably stick in the minds of many people. The Taj is an institution closely connected with Bombay’s history over the past one hundred years. Built by the Tata family, the Taj has hosted key events in Indian history right from its inauguration as the article “xxx” in its in-house magazine amply bears out. The Tatas are Parsees from Iran, who made Bombay their home. The staff has included both Muslims and Hindus as senior managers. Though the hotel is expensive, its doors have generally been open for anyone not too scruffy.
The Oberoi chain has cultivated its own image of exclusivity a notch or two above the Taj chain (Sanghvi 2007). In fact, both hotel chains belong to the “Upper Crust”. Together with the hapless travellers at the Victoria or Chhatapati Shivaji Terminus and the Jews, it is this upper crust, which was burnt. Dining out in Bombay has acquired a sad connotation.
November 30, 2008
Conlon, Frank F. 1995. “Dining Out in Bombay.” In Consuming Modernity: Public Culture in a South Asia World, edited by Carol A. Breckenridge. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Upper Crust, India‘s food, wine and style magazine 6:4, 2005Ramachandran, VK “Blasts of Terror”, Frontline, April 9, 1993
Sanghvi, Vir Men of Steel, Roli Books, 2007
Allen, Charles, “The Taj and Swaraj”, The Taj Magazine 27, 1:40-53