On Wednesday, July 13th, terror struck Mumbai once again when 3 powerful bombs rocked some of the most crowded places killing 19 people and injuring several others. I was shell shocked and it instantly brought back memories of pain, anger and despair when I watched Ajmal Kasab and his friends hold Mumbai hostage for 2 days in 2008. Nothing has changed! Once again, the events that transpired after the blasts were a complete déjà vu. PM and other politicos urged Mumbaikars to stay calm and united. Home Minister claimed they had no Intel on attacks. Rahul Gandhi had the guts to even say that not all terrorist attacks could be prevented. And all that the opposition did was to use this incident to gain political leverage. The morning after Wednesday's terror attacks, Mumbai was back on its feet as people went to office and children attended schools. A week from now, media will move on to the next hot topic and it will be business as usual for politicians. Only Mumbai will be left with another eternal scar!
This is the umpteenth time I have heard about the famous Mumbai Spirit and it scares me. “Blasts cannot kill the Mumbai spirit” read a famous tabloid. Agreed! With all due respect, do they have a choice? On July 11, 2006, 7 powerful bombs ripped through local trains in Mumbai killing 181 people. So did the Government create an alternate mode of transport after that? No. People still had to take the same train to go to work the next day. I shudder when I imagine what would have gone through people’s minds when they took the train days after the blast had occurred. I am sure they held on tightly to the chain in one hand and to their heart in the other. So many lives completely uprooted in a flash. And then life becomes normal once again the very next day. But no one realizes that life is never the same again. The fear and agony have been tattooed into their hearts forever with metal shrapnel.
Why is Mumbai such a soft target? Agreed, it is the financial and economic capital of India. It represents the fault line between practitioners of different faiths and languages, who are often at loggerheads and are so ignitable. The city offers an anonymity which, many a times has proved to be its Achilles heel. It literally is the Gateway to India offering easy access to one and all. But beyond all this, there is a much more compelling reason. Mumbai is not just a gateway to India, but its alter-ego. It symbolizes everything that is good about India. And everything that is bad about Mumbai is equally true about India. They share several common adjectives: Multi-religious, cosmopolitan, warm and welcoming, poly-cultural, enterprising and industrious.
Truly Mumbai is India’s heart. It is here, among the city's grime and dust, that the great dream of India enunciated at the midnight hour of August 14, 1947, is being lived every minute. Mumbai is India in miniature; destroy it, and the larger picture falls apart. Mumbai has been chosen for the exact reasons that New York City was chosen on September 11, 2001. Both cities embody their respective nations; gut them, and the dream of a fabulous nation could be destroyed.
So how are we handling this open threat to the very identity of India? Well, honestly I haven’t seen too much done so far. No doubt we see a few rallies, candle marches, panel discussions human chains and a lot of angry tweets. Well, that’s all a common man can really do. No one will have the guts or means to do a Naseeruddin Shah in “A Wednesday”. It is up to the people who run this country to create a system that can save Mumbai from the clutches of terror. I have always been bamboozled by our politicians’ reactions to terror attacks. All they do is go in circles in their blame game. Why can’t the Prime Minister just appear on National TV and make a strong statement to the people. A small gesture like that can go a long way in reassuring the people. All that the politicians have done for Mumbai is the famous (or rather infamous) name change from Bombay to Mumbai. Well, the only legitimate reason that could have been given was that the name itself was jinxed: “Bomb”ay and changing names might bring better luck. Yes. Luck! That seems to the only hope for the city which still refuses to believe that luck deserted Mumbai long time ago. And certainly Mumbai deserves much better than that!
Then there is Bollywood! In 1993, Dawood Ibrahim coordinated a series of 13 bomb explosions which remains to be the most destructive in Indian history resulting in 250 fatalities. And what does Bollywood do about that? It came out with movies celebrating him as a fallen hero. Ram Gopal Varma even visited the attacked site at Hotel Taj to search the story for his next movie. There have been thought provoking movies made out of the subject too but they are too few in comparison. It is a shame to look at these tragedies as an opportunity to make a few bucks. So much for lack of creativity! Media and film industry should do more than just using these incidents to increase their TRPs or to come up with real life dramas!
The Government needs to do much more if they have to erase the fear and doubt from the minds of Mumbaikars. An effective intelligence infrastructure has to be incorporated. In order for intelligence to be most useful in preventing attacks, it must be actionable, combining precise, tactical level warning with decision makers who are receptive to it. This is most likely to come from on-the-ground local and domestic intelligence gathering. This should be incorporated in all states and tremendous importance should be given to effective communication and coordination between the intelligences of different states. Only if we unite our intelligence infrastructure, can we thwart the terrorists who always have the element of surprise to their advantage. I think in a country of intelligent people, this should not be difficult to implement. Only if we have the willingness and focus to make it happen!
Here is a message to one and all. Laud the Mumbai spirit, but don’t use that as a shield to mask our incompetence against terror. A lot has been said about the Mumbai spirit. It is high time that something was done to keep it alive. Otherwise, it will not just be Mumbai’s spirit that will be lost, but an entire nation would lose its soul. Enough is enough!