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Wednesday, Aug 27, 2003

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Mumbai, shaken but not broken

Rasheeda Bhagat

By targeting Mumbai, the country's financial capital, the terrorists hoped to strike at the heart of the nation. But the megapolis' resilience and vibrancy saw it back in action the very next day. The Maharashtra Government owes it to the Mumbaikars to get to the root of the problem, and track down the perpetrators at the earliest, says Rasheeda Bhagat.

After the blast at the Gateway of India, Mumbai's best-known landmark... The monumental resilience of the people had the megapolis back on its feet in less than 24 hours. — Paul Noronha

AS THE horror of the twin bomb blasts in Mumbai sank in, it brought to mind the words of a West Asian journalist speaking just 24 hours earlier on BBC's Dateline London.

The discussion was on the worsening situation in Iraq and how over 60 American soldiers were killed after the cessation of hostilities on May 1. The journalist Mustafa — one did not catch his full name or the publication he worked for — said that the terrorists targeting US citizens had hit upon a new, but effective, plan: Target Americans elsewhere in the world than at their home, which they had tightly secured, if not closed.

Post-9/11, whether it is in granting visas, or slow and painstaking security checks at airports and other sensitive places, the message is clear: Human life is dear and has a great value attached to it.

Its growing arrogance hardly makes the US an exemplar of anything, but its all-out effort to safeguard the lives of its people cannot be ignored. Especially, considering the continuing loss of lives India seems to be taking from the hands of terrorists; the apparent freedom with which extremists operate in the country makes one feel both utterly helpless and extremely furious.

Of course, India has neither the funds nor the means at the disposal of the sole superpower. But is the nation so helpless that it finds it impossible to curb, if not stop, terrorist groups or the so-called jehadi elements — if indeed they are responsible — from their mayhem?

The repeated targeting of Mumbai — the country's financial capital and economic powerhouse — is being done for obvious reasons. Targeting Gateway of India, which is opposite to the Taj Mahal Hotel, was obviously less for the number of casualties the blast could cause, than for the adverse signal it would send to the business traveller and the upper segment tourist staying in Mumbai's best known symbol of luxury hotels.

In March 1993, the Bombay Stock Exchange and Air India buildings were among several sites in the serial blasts. Then also the blasts achieved the motive of causing panic in the equity market — a barometer of an economy's status.

Yesterday, too, as some television reporters reported that there had been four blasts (instead of the two), the Sensex and Nifty plummeted, before recovering a little.

Yet, at the end of the day,the Sensex had lost 120 points and the Nifty around 40 points. While the jury is still out on the perpetrators and their real targets, one theory is that this attack, as also the earlier ones, was an attempt to target areas of Gujarati concentration, as a sort of revenge for what happened in Gujarat, post Godhra. It is suggested that the diamond trade of Zhaveri Bazar is in the hands of the Gujaratis.

But, then, there is hardly any area in Mumbai where the Gujarati presence is not felt. . Because of the Gujaratis' enterprising nature, propensity to take risks and business acumen, they have adopted Mumbai as their own, and made their mark in diverse businesses; what would Dalal Street have been but for the Gujju punter?

To those sceptical are pointed reports, though unconfirmed, of Muslim youths from Gujarat, particularly after the carnage of March 2002, going across the border to train in terrorist activities.

Exploited, vulnerable, brainwashed and downright lunatic are the words that sum up the manner in which hatred and violence are ingrained into the consciousness of individuals, especially those at an impressionable age. With enough doses of poison, it does not take too long for the victim to lash out in rage, often leaving another lot of exploited. So the vicious cycle goes on, benefiting none but the politician. In fact, this was visible even on Monday, when as Mumbaikars lent a helping hand to one another, the BJP and the Shiv Sena were already clamouring for the dismissal of the Sushil Kumar Shinde Government and the imposition of President's rule on Maharashtra. As if that were the panacea.

Timing is an important aspect of the attacker's modus operandi. While this issue still remains clouded vis-a-vis Monday's blasts, one school of thought sees a connection with the report submitted by the Archaeological Survey of India to the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court that it had found a massive 10th century structure beneath the site where the Babri Masjid once stood.

This does appear stretching things. For,the contents of the ASI report became known only on Monday and it would be crediting the terrorists with too much of professionalism and efficiency to claim that they were able to carry out the blasts at such short notice.

Moving away from that frightening thought to the spirit of Mumbai, amid the gruesome violence and the resultant grief, the shell-shocked city was back to routine in less than 24 hours. Shops and trading establishments opened as usual on Tuesday morning, and people crowded trains and buses to the workplace. Leading the charge was the equity market, with the Sensex and the Nifty not only recouping the losses of Monday, but marching ahead, despite analyst after analyst appearing on TV channels to forecast gloom, of how the FIIs would wind up their new-found aggressive interest in Indian stocks. Dark clouds come with silver lining and the resilience of Mumbai is the best example.

Post Monday's incidents, what must be welcomed is their quick condemnation by diverse sections. It may be a sad commentary that Muslims have to stand up and say: "We condemn this attack" every time a lunatic jehadi sets off a bomb. But it is necessary during mad times like these, when communal passions can be aroused and exploited by the fundamentalists and trigger a violent backlash. In this light, any number of statements from the `Jamaat' organisations and other Islamic outfits are welcome.

Even the Arab media has condemned the Mumbai blasts in a single voice. The editorial of Arab News, the largest circulating English daily in Saudi Arabia, which described the attacks as "evil in the extreme" said: "A coordinated attack at the Gateway and the (Mumba Devi) temple are akin, in Paris, to terrorists hitting the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame at the same time, or, in London, Trafalgar Square and Westminster Abbey... Bombay is India's New York." Of course, Pakistan too condemned the attacks. The State Government owes it to the Mumbaikars to get to the root of the problem, and track the perpetrators at the earliest.

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