My fingers are shaking as I key in this piece, minutes after watching visuals of panic stricken commuters at CST station, running helter skelter as fresh reports of terrorist attacks near the RBI and GT Hospital send a grievously wounded Mumbai reeling once again…. to save itself. If these horrific attacks that have struck every Mumbaikar’s heart do not act as a serious wake up call, nothing else can or will.The most important lesson to learn from the carnage is that the time has come for citizens to take control of their lives and their beloved city, for if they don’t, they will be dead.What the past 40 hours have demonstrated unambiguously is that our city fathers have learned nothing from past blows in our gut, or else innocents would not have lost their lives because there was no one in charge when the city most needed a figure, capable of leading from the front. The chief minister showed up outside the Trident, when the crisis was nearly over. Delhi politicians caused more of a nuisance than anything else when the prime minister, along with Sonia Gandhi made the mandatory hospital visits….. diverted traffic and police attention.
But it took a Narendra Modi to show us what political opportunism is all about when he arrogantly arrived here with bags of money to distribute to the families of Mumbai’s real heroes – the slain policemen, and wasted no time in capitalizing on the tragedy to cold bloodedly push his own agenda.
There were several shocking failures and lapses…. But what good is a post- mortem, after the damage is done? What good, delayed responses – we could have, we should have, why didn’t so-and-so do this or that? The truth is, we effed up. Each and every one of us. Let us not point fingers and play the blame game, for it is dangerous and unproductive. We were caught off guard – once again. This time there is no excuse. How many attacks is it going to take for Mumbai to act and save itself?And where should we begin?? I would say let us start from taking a few key lessons from America, post 9\11. The entire country acted as one. Political differences were set aside and a superbly strategized counter-terrorism plan put into place.There have been no further attacks since then. Next, we need to pay attention to the immediate requirements of our over- burdened police force – those poor constables armed with nothing more lethal than laathis can ‘t chase a rabid dog, forget about taking on hard core, armed terrorists.Give them equipment, training and autonomy to act in such an emergency without waiting for bureaucratic clearances, then see the difference. We need an action plan to deal with crises. Citizens need to be taken into confidence with a disaster management strategy, and regular drills to keep people alert.
What became evident( and cost countless lives) was the absence of leadership. With whom did the buck stop? Who was in charge of taking key and timely decisions? Was there anyone at all who was monitoring and co ordinating collective efforts to deal with each ghastly development? Individual stories of heroism are not enough in such situations – they create martyrs, nothing else. We lost outstanding officers, who misread the threat to their own lives and were not adequately protected. Our police lack basic gear – helmets, bullet proof jackets, riot shields. We expect them to protect us while they themselves are unprotected. Lack of funds is a poor excuse. Take a look at any minor politico moving around with a convoy of police cars, security personnel, ambulances. These privileges must be instantly withdrawn and reserved exclusively for top ranking politicians alone.
Help in the form of crack commando units, the Marcos, NSG and the Army, arrived several hours after Operation Mumbai was underway. Naval helicopters were deployed still later. Securing a city like Mumbai is not an easy job. But it is possible . Something simple like neighbourhood sirens to alert citizens of an impending attack, are not that difficult to install. This IS war – make no mistake about that. Mumbai is hemorraging….. bleeding a slow death Political tourniquets can’t save us. If we have to save ourselves, we need to perform radical surgery…. amputate a few gangrenous limbs. And rely on the mighty heart of this great metropolis – the extraordinary people of Mumbai. But this time I am not going to be a sentimental fool and say, ‘Salaam Mumbai’. It’s time to shout, to holler, “Wake up Mumbai. Fight back. Fight back. Fight back!”