It could have been you. It could have been me. We were fortunate. We are alive. But
hundreds of other victims – our people - who died last week, weren’t as lucky. They were at the wrong place at the wrong time…. and paid with their lives. Mumbai received a body blow from which it may take years and years to recover. Just as 9\11 changed the lives of millions of New Yorkers, 26\11 will remain etched on our consciousness – a tragic reminder of Mumbai’s exposed flanks and extreme vulnerability. The most incredible aspect of this ghastly tragedy is the startling statistic – in a teeming city of 16 million, all the people I have spoken to over the past five days, have a direct connection to the carnage, one way or the other. They know someone who was hit – either killed , trapped, or evacuated. South Mumbai resembled a ghastly graveyard over the black weekend, with people rushing from one funeral to the next, numb with sorrow but raging within.
Impotent anger, at such a time, is worthless. Anger must be mobilized and redirected towards serving a bigger objective. As of now, what we are experiencing is righteous indignation – ‘How dare they do this to us?” The point is – ‘they’ HAVE done it to ‘us’. Now what?? Do we beat our breasts, moan and groan, weep and wail ? Or do we think ahead… plan…. consolidate and ACT? For the first time since the multiple batterings Mumbai has been at the receiving end of, we are seeing a citizenry that has awakened to the fact that as long as there are terror camps flourishing in Pakistan, as long as Karachi’s proximity and easy access to our shores is being taken advantage of by terrorist organizations, Mumbai will remain a soft target. The devastation we witnessed over 56 gruelling hours does not represent the end game. It may well be a mere pause before the terrorists regroup and conduct another lethal strike. Should we be caught napping again, we will only have ourselves to blame.
Citizens the world over, get together to protect themselves when government machinery lets them down. It’s time to face the horrible truth that we don’t have any other choice but to depend on our own resources to fight back. This fight has to be a strategized one, relying more on intelligent planning and less on physical interventions. It must start in neighbourhoods, building societies, schools and colleges. It must focus on educating people on how best to handle emergencies of this kind. I strongly recommend a simple yet effective method that does not require rocket science to implement - sirens at key locations around the city that warn citizens of an impending disaster, natural or man made. We are finally seeking help from the Israelis and Americans who are experts in this area. If America could immediately put the Homeland Securities project into place in the wake of 9\11, what stops us from adapting a similar model ourselves?
Our abysmal failure to secure Mumbai does not need any further amplification. Questions that may remain unanswered revolve around the puzzling time lapses that cost precious lives. Why was the army not called in much earlier, why the delay in getting the Marcos and the NSG into action? Forget intelligence failure that could not intercept an attack of such a magnitude – for hours and hours after the first burst of gunfire, our cops and firemen appeared totally confused and ill prepared – as if they were waiting for a go ahead from some ‘higher authority’ (who? ). Bureaucratic tangles may have paralysed some of our dynamic and brilliant police officers, unable to move without those dratted ‘clearances’ , possibly from a sleepy Delhi. Why not more autonomy for our top cops?Viewers watched in horror, as the poor constables attempted to do their best, armed with lathis!! The terrorists on the other hand were armed to the teeth with the world’s most advanced weapons. How can a megapolis of this size, with its unique topography, hope to cope with a terror operation of this scale and sophistication? Despite the odds being stacked so heavily against our men, they bravely battled on and decimated our enemies to cries of , ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai.’ Mumbai itself shone through the tragedy, as average Mumbaikars rallied around brilliantly, expressing solidarity, compassion and a splendid display of maturity via emails, smes, phone calls and visits to affected families. Mumbai stood together as one entity. This in itself is nothing short of a feat…..a miracle.
The ordeal may be over…. but not the battle. Faces of all those who died, must be remembered. No forgetting, no forgiving this time. The time for that is over. Stay together. Stay angry. May the force be with us as we start to heal. Once again.
Please join me in saluting the principled widow of our great hero, Hemant Karkare, who snubbed Narendra Modi by refusing to accept his money. And please also join me in acknowledging the extraordinary sense of duty displayed by those magnificent Sardars in the foyers of the two hotels, who could so easily have run away at the sound of gunfire within, but chose to stay and risk their lives while saving other people’s.