A few men with guns
Saturday, November 29, 2008 (The News)
By Aakar Patel
The writer is a former newspaper editor who lives in Bombay. Among the papers he has edited is Mid-day, an afternoon paper that is published from the city
The men who attacked Bombay knew who they were looking for – and they knew where to find them. Cafe Leopold on the Colaba Causeway, the first place attacked on Wednesday (Nov 26), is where foreign tourists have their beers. The Leopold is one of the few places – perhaps the only place – in this city where patrons must pay before they get service. This suits the foreigner who is used to self-service; it irritates the Indian whose honour is hurt by the demand that he demonstrate his solvency.
The Indian stays away. This suits the foreigner further and he is the cafe’s main patron.
The attackers came to the Leopold from a lane that connects it to the Gateway of India, where a long shoulder of land holds back the sea. On the southern edge of this sits the Taj, built in 1903, owned by the Tatas and easily the finest hotel in India. At the other end of the strip is a jetty where the attackers landed in a Zodiac, a rubber dinghy with an outboard motor, at a little past 9 pm on Wednesday.
They came by sea because they were each carrying two heavy rucksacks filled with grenades and magazines for their assault rifles. They split up. The first headed straight for the Taj. A second struck left and, after attacking Leopold moved on to the Oberoi Trident at Nariman Point, next to the National Centre for Performing Arts.
Another group broke off to the right and went to the Victoria Terminus, the busiest railway station in India. Built in the Gothic style, it is the most beautiful building the British gifted India. There the attackers, two young men wearing T-shirts with English print on them, cargo pants with large pockets and nylon rucksacks hung front and back, shot down people waiting to catch the train back home.
The two men were photographed by journalists of the Times of India, whose office is directly opposite Victoria Terminus. The pictures show the men’s faces alert and determined. One picture shows one man smiling, another shows the same man with his face set in a grimace of anger. This man has a red friendship band on his right wrist. The magazine of his assault rifle has plastic tape around it. The men are in their early 20s and fair.
A photograph taken on Thursday morning after the massacre shows the luggage and footwear scattered. It is cheap: tied-up suitcases, little cloth bundles and plastic bags and sandals.
After this killing, the men went across the road to the Metro cinema where they attacked the premises of the Cama Hospital. This duo is thought to have shot the chief of the anti-terror squad of the Bombay police, Hemant Karkare. They took a police jeep and then drove on either to join the group at the Oberoi Trident or at the Nariman Bhavan, next to it, where a family of New York Jews was taken hostage.
The jeep was driven down with gunfire coming out of it. People on the streets, who assumed that the police jeep was friendly, were cut down by these men as they drove past, casually letting off rounds from the window.
At 10 pm on Wednesday, the newspaper editors of Bombay were gathered at the Colaba Parsi Agiary, just beyond Nariman Point. They were celebrating the wedding of Bachi Karkaria’s son. Bachi is an editor with the Times of India. DNA’s Ayaz Memon, Times of India’s Dina Vakil, the Mumbai Mirror’s Meenal Baghel, the Asian Age’s Olga Tellis, the Economic Times’s Vikram Doctor and Maharashtra Times’s Bharat Kumar Raut were present.
Once the explosions began, the Indian Navy, which controls the area, blocked it off and the editors were unable to return to their newsdesks for the most important story of the year till 1 am, when their deadline was gone. One editor who was invited but did not attend was the Times of India Delhi’s Sabina Sehgal Saikia. She had a room in the Taj Mahal hotel and has not been heard from since that night.
A couple of kilometres away from the Agiary, a silver Skoda Laura was carjacked, perhaps by the group that left the Leopold, and this was intercepted by the police. One man was killed and another captured. This man was taken to the commissioner’s office for interrogation. He holds the clues to who these men were, what they sought to achieve and who paid them.
By 11 pm, the siege began at the Taj, the Oberoi Trident and Nariman Bhavan. It would continue into Friday. Most people who died in the attack died in these buildings. Over 150 people would be killed by grenades and gunfire.
The attackers numbered 20, according to the chief minister, and they were trained in combat. A lieutenant general of the Indian army briefing the press said on Friday morning that the pattern of gunfire coming from the Taj showed the presence of one attacker who was moving across two floors, which included a large, open dance area. He had switched the lights off on these floors and was moving into and out of rooms as he let off bursts of gunfire and grenades.
Fourteen policemen died. Three were officers. The others were men whom the government had equipped with bolt-action Lee Enfield rifles, used in the First World War. They were expected to stop men using assault rifles.
Minutes before he was killed, anti-terror chief Karkare was filmed taking off his helmet and talking on the mobile phone, before putting it back on. Also killed was Vijay Salaskar, Bombay police’s encounter specialist. He had killed over 50 criminals but he wasn’t trained to combat men who were not trying to run from him.
When it was clear that the Bombay police was out of its depth, the government asked for help from Delhi which dispatched its best soldiers, the men of the NSG Commando, the Black Cats. Even these, the elite of the Indian army, were equipped partially with clumsy SLR rifles, meant for field warfare. As the Indian army cleared Kargil peak by peak, its soldiers took on a preference for the Kalashnikovs they took from dead jihadis, preferring them to the enormous SLR, made in the 70s.
The long siege of Bombay ended on Friday. We will know of the cost of the attack and we will know of the consequence. Its patrons will hope the Taj, burnt and battered, reopens. It is a symbol of our city’s culture, its quality, its ambition.
The best French restaurant in India is in the Taj, the Zodiac Grill. Its Camembert Dariole is a cheese cocoon, with the texture of spun silk. Its meat course is preceded by a sorbet, to wash the palate clean. The Taj knows quality and it knows service.
Fifteen of the Taj’s staff died trying to protect their guests.
Harish Manwani, the chairman of Hindustan Lever was in the hotel and unreachable. A relative of his called his cellphone which was switched off. On a whim, she tried the front desk of the hotel.
At 3 am on Thursday morning, five hours into the attack, with gunfire and grenade explosions going on above her, the receptionist picked up the phone at the Taj and said: “Good morning, the Taj.”
A few men with guns cannot change Bombay.
The simmering in Bombay
Sunday, November 30, 2008 (Daily The News)
By Aakar Patel
After 9/11 it was pointed out that no Indian Muslim was in Guantanamo Bay. The difference between the Muslim in India and the one in Pakistan, columnists speculated, was that in a democracy, even an imperfect one, the individual’s rage was dissipated through the vote.
On July 30, 2007, Kafeel Ahmed attacked Glasgow Airport. The operation was incompetent: a car loaded with fuel drums was rammed into the building, killing only the attacker, who was 28.
The son of doctors from Bangalore, Kafeel was a PhD student in fluid dynamics. His brother Dr Sabeel Ahmed was also part of the operation and was arrested. His cousin Dr Mohammad Haneef was arrested in Australia and then let off after he was found to be not involved. Kafeel and Sabeel Ahmed were the first Indians to be named in an international jihadi attack.
However, something has been simmering in Indian Muslims since 9/11 and especially since the riots in Gujarat in March 2002.
On December 2, 2002, a bomb went off on a bus in Ghatkopar, a Gujarati suburb in North Bombay, killing two people. Eight Muslim men arrested for the attack, including Dr Abdul Mateen, were acquitted by a court in 2005.
On January 28, 2003, a bomb exploded outside a shopping centre in Vile Parle, a Gujarati suburb of North Bombay. On June 2, the police arrested three men for this attack, including Dr Wahid Ansari.
On March 13, 2003, a bomb went off on a train in Mulund, a Gujarati suburb of North Bombay, killing 11 people.
On July 28, 2003, a bomb went off again in a Ghatkopar bus, killing four people.
On August 25, 2003, bombs in two taxis exploded in South Bombay, killing over 50 people. One went off at the Gateway of India monument, directly opposite the Taj Mahal Hotel. The other was set off nearby at Zaveri Bazaar, the jewellers’ market, whose traders are mostly Gujarati.
Those arrested were Syed Mohammad Hanif, his wife Fahmida and his daughter Farheen, who was 18. The women helped in packing gelatin into the bombs, working at night in their one-room house. The policemen who interrogated the family were struck by how defiant and lacking in remorse the women were.
Rakesh Maria, the officer in charge of the investigation, said that this kind of attack would not end. The police had no capacity to penetrate these plots. The attacks were also improving their lethality.
On July 11, 2006, 209 people died when seven bombs went off on Bombay’s local trains. A group calling itself Lashkar-e-Qahhar claimed responsibility. The police named a man called Abdul Karim Tunda as their top suspect.
On September 8, 2006, the Hindus struck back. Four bombs went off near a mosque in Malegaon after Friday prayers on Shab-e-Baraat. Most of the 31 people killed were Muslim. Malegaon has a strong Muslim population and is often the site of religious violence.
On September 29, 2008, another bomb went off in Malegaon, killing five. The bomb was mounted on a motorcycle. The police traced its owner and arrested her. Pragya Singh Thakur was a young woman originally from Madhya Pradesh but settled in Gujarat. She called herself Sadhvi, marking her renunciation of the world in 2007. Also arrested were a serving officer of the Indian army, Lt-Col Shrikant Purohit, and a retired officer, Major R S Upadhyay.
Thakur belonged to an organisation called Abhinav Bharat. It was formed by people who had been asked to leave the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
Reporters interviewed Thakur’s family and the narrative – single woman, renouncing the world, acting out of selflessness, effective – was appealing. The middle class chant of enough-is-enough, and we-should-do-something found someone to hang their fantasies on, like it did with Narendra Modi.
Sensing the air, the Hindu parties fell over themselves to associate with her. The BJP’s Advani offered his support, Shiv Sena’s Bal Thackeray offered his admiration and BJP rebel Uma Bharati (a Sadhvi herself) offered her a ticket for last week’s Madhya Pradesh Assembly election.
Till the talismanic figure of Thakur emerged, the Malegaon blasts were of interest only to the Urdu papers in Bombay. For them it broke the regular sequence because Muslims were targeted. The other media visited the story and moved on, one in a sequence containing many others.
The newspapers are a reflection of society: Muslims and Hindus in India have parted in the way that they look at the world.
The Iraq war does not concern India. Under pressure from Muslims and the left parties, its politicians offered a mumbled condemnation (the actual word used was the Hindi ‘ninda’, showing mild disapproval) of the invasion in parliament. Most Hindus don’t understand why it’s a bad thing to remove a dictator and put a long suppressed Shia majority in power through democracy.
But after 9/11 the Indian Muslim has viewed the world with alarm, and often viewed it as a Muslim. This is changing the way he views himself.
Bombay has had only one Deobandi mosque, the Jamia Masjid at Crawford Market. The office for admissions to the Dar-ul-Uloom Deoband in Central Bombay is small and almost always empty.
So dominant was the Barelvi in Bombay that, unlike in Pakistan, the Deobandi feared him. After a skirmish over the sighting of the Eid moon on January 19, 1998, Barelvis hacked Deobandis coming out of the Jamia Masjid, killing two. But this is changing.
In the past decade the tableeghis have begun mounting enormous, ever-growing ijtemas in Bombay where tens of thousands attend. Last week, Dr Zakir Naik, the Bombay Salafi famed for his destructive debating ability, held a conference so massive that it had to be held on a field outside the city.
The doctors named in the Bombay blasts listed above were from Salafi families. The local group the Indian government fears above all is the Students Islamic Movement of India. It is composed of very educated urban Muslims all leaning away from India’s syncretic Islam.
The flag of SIMI showed a hand punching through the flags of India, America and Israel.
On Friday, March 3, 2006, the Muslims of Bombay protested against the war in Iraq, led by the Jamiatul Ulema-e-Islam. Over 250,000 people attended, shocking the country with the anti-American venom they spewed.
After this week’s attacks in Bombay, it was speculated that Muslim resentment at being left behind in India’s economic growth is spawning terrorism. This view does not understand India. The barrier for entry into India’s stream of success is not religion; it is language. Those who do not speak English are discriminated against by the market.
This is easily demonstrated to those who live in India.
Indians working for call centres servicing the west must have a Christian name and an American accent. Indians working for call centres servicing India do not hide their identity. You are as likely to be speaking to Mohammed, Fareeda or Shakir as you are to anyone else.
The simmering is being caused by something larger which is global.
The New York Times reported on Saturday that evidence for this week’s attacks in Bombay led to Pakistan’s most lethal jihadi group, Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Certainly, the efficiency and lethality shown by the attackers were not of a piece with the hit-and-run nature of terrorism in India. That, whether by Muslims or, now, by Hindus, is characterised by its pettiness and its desire to get even. Suicide attacks are never involved, because the cause is not higher than the self.
The objective of this week’s attack on Bombay was entirely different and so was the method. New Delhi must take the steps it needs to take to counter global terror.
But the job for Bombay’s police commissioner Hassan Ghafoor is to look at our city and figure out how the broken intelligence in his police force must stop the attacks from within.
The dark consequences unfolding on the horizon
Monday, December 01, 2008
By Aakar Patel
The writer is a former newspaper editor who lives in Bombay. Among the papers he has edited is Mid-day, an afternoon paper that is published from the city
One of the 10 men who attacked Bombay is alive and is talking. Ajmal Kasab was the man photographed by Times of India journalists from their office opposite Victoria Terminus where this man and another gunned down passengers waiting to board trains.
His calm arrogance, splashed across newspaper front pages, amid the carnage has generated a rage that the government of India will struggle to contain.
In the coming days stories will emerge from the survivors of the conduct of the 10 attackers. But more importantly, there will be hours of video footage from dozens of surveillance cameras inside the Taj Mahal Hotel and the Trident Oberoi. This footage will show the siege unfold. It will show troubling scenes: the murder of women hostesses at the Taj Chambers, and of the girl who was the usher at Tiffin, the restaurant where one of the bigger massacres took place.
Two men led five employees of the Taj, bound and gagged and weeping, down the corridors of the hotel before killing them. The measured nature of the attack will
first numb and then infuriate Indians and the world, which has set aside the story of the recession in favour of the Bombay attacks.
Ninety nine people were killed inside the Taj alone. How many of those killings and executions will be shown on endless television loops?
Public anger will demand vengeance. The media has already decided where the guilt lies and unless there is clinching evidence to the contrary – that the attackers were Indians or Bangladeshis or something else – pressure will build on the government to retaliate.
If Kasab is proved to be Pakistani, this time the Indian government will consider an attack on jihadi organisations inside Pakistan.
America’s counsel against this – because it will distract from Pakistan’s internal war in the northwest – will be disregarded and only cold reason from India and from Pakistan might prevent it.
India’s current political establishment, which is focussed on economic growth and is not as reckless as the BJP, will weigh the consequences of one or two strikes against Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed that will assuage the rage which has not yet reached its peak.
Two things make this attack different from any other including the multiple train blasts in Bombay that killed even more people – 209 – only two years ago on July 11, 2006.
The first is the targets: the Taj and the Trident Oberoi hotels and their occupants.
Some of India’s most famous names are part of the story. Harish Manwani, chairman of Hindustan Lever and Sir Ghulam Noon escaped. Anand Bhatt, a partner at one of India’s top law firms Wadia Gandhy, did not. The newsworthy quality of the victims and survivors will guarantee coverage of their individual stories of horror over many days.
The media will not let go of a story that has the nation riveted.
Television journalism in India, especially in Hindi, is emotional because of the nature of its vocabulary. It is excellent at expressing the sentiment of its audience, which it echoes in the guise of news. Newspapers are the only ally of the government if it wants to create some atmosphere of debate to blunt the emotion.
The Times of India is our most liberal newspaper. Its editor Joydeep Bose has through his bold editing possibly done more than any other individual to temper the conservative opinion his urban audience holds on social issues.
The paper is preferred by the elite, and takes a very pragmatic view on the economy and on foreign policy. An editor of the Times of India, Sabina Sehgal Saikia, was killed in her room at the Taj, pulled out from under her bed.
Will journalists be able to set aside their personal loss in the attacks and advise the government to act with caution?
The second thing that separates this attack is that it might be that India finally has a smoking gun. Clinching evidence that links organisations in Pakistan to the attack could come from Kasab. Already The New York Times is running reports tying Pakistani groups to the attack.
Pakistan’s behaviour and tone will also determine the trajectory of events.
Pakistan has made some moves that show its leaders may not yet have understood the gravity of the moment. Pakistan agreed to send the ISI chief to India and then said it wouldn’t. This was a mistake and will be seen in India with suspicion. It makes difficult the task of the government of India to defend the Pakistani government against public anger.
Columnists in Pakistan who are angry with their government for agreeing to send the official in the first place do not understand what a staggering blow this has dealt to the public opinion of Pakistan’s fledgling democratic government in India.
Pakistan is asking, as is its right, for evidence tying the attackers to the Lashkar-e-Taiba. It is also saying, rightly, that terrorism is targeting both nations. The problem is the tone. Indians will be seething at foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s press conference of Saturday (Nov 29) which was shown live on Indian news channels. He said that he had “taken the Indian media head-on” for three days, and all Indian allegations would be met on the “front foot”. This is not the language of diplomats. He was speaking to a domestic audience, but should have considered how this would sound in Bombay.
India is wounded and will show emotion over the next week. The observer would urge Pakistan to make reassuring noises. And also to look at jailing Jaish’s Maulana Masood Azhar and Lashkar’s Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, who are poised to become international stories again.
A link to Lashkar or Jaish will lead to the certain demand that Pakistan surrender these men to India.
So far, there is no clarity over what the attacks mean for India.
Television producers with a keen eye for drama have tagged the Bombay attacks ‘India’s 9/11’. But what does that mean?
The Bush presidency became a national security administration after the September 11 attacks. Will the Indian government thump its fist on the map of the world and launch its battleships? It won’t. This is not our 9/11 in the sense that it shifts our policy. Even though it will be straining at the leash to strike jihadi organisations, India does not wish war with Pakistan.
Foreign policy is conducted by experts outside of public opinion, which does not understand its nuanced character. In America foreign policy was brought into the popular domain by America’s anger after the blows in New York and Washington. America went to war against an enemy who was given form through demonization.
But after flailing at phantoms in Iraq, the emotion was spent, as emotion is, and American foreign policy returned to the calm deliberation of experts.
This is likely what will happen in India. Our problem is how to bring a half billion people out of poverty; our priority will soon again become that.
But right now the emotion is building, and it will need to be spent. How this happens will be determined by events that are within the control of India and Pakistan.
We are at the threshold of a moment whose climax is not yet behind us. Once the slow motion replays of the cameras begin and the details emerge from Kasab, the story will find its climax.
Email: aakar.patel@ gmail.com