In view of the recent events in Mumbai, in particular, and India, in general, after I put aside the feelings of pride based on the valour displayed by the officers and men of the Mumbai Police and Fire Brigade Departments and those of the Indian Army, Navy and various special forces, the staff of the Taj Mahal and Oberoi-Trident hotels, in addition to those of grief on account of the loss of so many innocent lives, I have the following observations to make:
1. Hemant Karkare, who was the chief of Mumbai police's anti-terrorism squad (ATS), died in the course of the attacks, having been shot thrice in the chest, even though he was wearing a bullet-proof jacket. It leads me to wonder whether those who were responsible for procuring the jacket decided that Mumbai's policemen did not need a jacket that could stop bullets fired from an AK-47 or whether they, in fact, accepted bribes to procure jackets that were not up to the requisite quality standards.
2. A contingent of the National Security Guards (NSG) was flown in from New Delhi to tackle the gunmen. Their flight took off from New Delhi at about 1:15 a.m. on November 27, even as the attacks had begun at about 9:15 p.m. on the previous day. They are reported to have gone into action at only about 6:00 a.m. on November 27.
The Marine Commando Corps (MARCOS) of the Indian Navy, stationed at Mumbai itself, was ultimately called into action, but that too happened several hours after the NSG contingent had become airborne.
The NSG's men are supposed to be able to get ready to board an aircraft with all their equipment within 30-45 minutes, but in this case it took much longer as an aeroplane had to be arranged for first. Later, apart from those who were dropped by helicopter on to Nariman House's roof, the rest had to be transported there by buses requisitioned from the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply & Transport Undertaking (BEST).
Apparently, no one had ever considered before that action by an elite commando force may be required in a city like Mumbai, in case of a terrorist attack, at any point of time and planned for it at all.
3. The press-conference conducted by a section of MARCOS that took part in the operations made two things very clear. They were not even provided with a copy of the building-plan of the Taj Mahal hotel, before they were sent in and secondly and even more importantly, some essential equipment that they did not have included night-vision devices.
The terrorists were able to strike at will, more or less, since they knew more about the building-plan than the commandos. It may be worth noting here that if a skilled set of commandos are provided with the layout of a building that they are about to storm, even a few minutes before they move in, a huge difference can be made in the effectiveness of their operations and, therefore, help them save more lives.
Since the MARCOS did not have night-vision devices, the terrorists could escape when they encountered the commandos in the dark and cause much greater damage later. It also led to two of the commandos suffering from serious injuries in that particular fire-fight.
The building-plan could have been provided to the MARCOS by Mumbai's civil authorities, if not the hotel's management.
As far as the procurement of essential equipment is concerned, perhaps the chiefs of the three defence services could exhibit the same kind of unity and strength of will while asking for it, as they did while trying to get a salary raise equivalent to bureaucrats and policemen for themselves and the soldiers they command. The bureaucrats and politicians in the Ministry of Defence might then let them have it.
4. The NSG not only lost one of its men during its operations at Nariman House, but also failed to save the lives of five people that the two gunmen holed up there had taken hostage, even though it managed to kill the gunmen. Another commando of the NSG was killed during its operations at the Taj Mahal hotel. Although I am not fully competent to comment on this, but I do wonder whether the NSG's skills are getting rusty owing to a lack of time and resources to practice for such situations, as a large number of its men have been employed as personal security guards for the country's top politicians.
Incidentally, some of the politicians protected by the NSG have been widely accused of embezzlement of crores of rupees, nepotism, incitement of communal riots, deliberate inaction during widespread communal violence (in which thousands of innocent people were robbed, raped and/or killed in a brutal manner and their properties set on fire) while serving in positions of power, among other such grave charges.
5*. Unlike the MARCOS, who were very careful about protecting their identities, many of the NSG's men did not wear the balaclava helmets issued to them in a proper manner, while they were in action at the hotels and at Nariman House. As a result, the faces of many of them were revealed to television cameras. A number of them spoke briefly to television news-channels after the encounter at Nariman House was over, with their faces uncovered. An injured NSG commando admitted to a hospital in Mumbai has been interviewed by television news-channels including BBC World Service and NDTV 24x7. Although they do not seem to have realised this, such actions could expose the men, while they are off-duty, as well as their families to retribution by terrorist organisations.
Perhaps it is time for their senior officers to remind them to be more disciplined, like the MARCOS.
6*. The interviews with the injured NSG commando made it clear that the NSG's men also did not have night-vision devices, just like the MARCOS.
7. When Lieutenant General N. Thamburaj, chief of the Indian Army's Southern Command, held a press conference on the morning of November 28, he mentioned that the NSG had suffered casualties, but he would rather not say whether these had been fatal or non-fatal, since that could, according to him, affect the remaining terrorists' frame of mind. I knew as soon as the words were out of his mouth that the NSG had suffered fatal casualties i.e. some of its men had lost their lives. If I could make that out, obviously the terrorists also could, if they managed to listen in to the Lieutenant General's statement.
8. The electronic news-media in India, it appears, has still not come of age. While the BBC World News channel called in intelligence analysts and anti-terrorism experts to discuss all that was unfolding, Indian television channels interviewed actors and directors from the Hindi film industry, in addition to members of the general public, to discuss the state of affairs in Mumbai, besides making an attempt towards sensationalising minor discoveries, even as bullets flew and their reporters stood outside the buildings under attack, counting the number of gun-shots and explosions that they could hear. Also, news from all other parts of the country and from the rest of the world was almost completely taken off air for the duration of the attacks, which was nearly three days.
9. I think I will not be surprised at all if it is found that the terrorists and their arsenal came in through a regular route for smuggling via sea, after the usual amounts of bribes having been paid to the staff of relevant government agencies that were on duty.
10. Not so long ago, investigations by the Hemant Karkare-led ATS revealed that recent bomb-blasts in the town of Malegaon, in Maharashtra, which led to the loss of many innocent lives, were planned and executed by certain Hindu right-wing organisations and subsequent arrests included Sadhvi Pragya Thakur and a serving officer of the Indian Army i.e. Lieutenant Colonel Srikant Purohit.
Initially, when the Sadhvi was sought to be linked to senior leaders of the principal opposition party in the lower house of parliament, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), on account of information dug-up by the news-media, it sought to distance itself from her. However, later on, when it became known that no substantial material evidence had so far been gathered against her by the ATS, the party's president, Mr. Rajnath Singh, and its prime ministerial candidate, Mr. L. K. Advani, began to defend her in a big way through public statements.
More recently, however, Mr. Karkare and his men were reported to have obtained clinching evidence in the form of video and audio recordings of meetings in which the Sadhvi, the Lieutenant Colonel and their cohorts were seen and heard planning the bomb-blasts. These were, apparently, found on the laptop computer of one of their co-accused. It was also reported that the ATS meant to make the entire plot public, after tying up a few loose ends, very shortly. If that had happened, Mr. Advani, Mr. Singh and their party-men might have found themselves at a loss for words with respect to this issue, especially while facing the electorate in the upcoming general elections.
Now that Mr. Karkare is dead, though, no one really knows as to what is likely to become of the investigation. The new chief of the ATS may not be as upright an officer and may not pursue the matter as vigorously. In any case, the accused in the Malegaon bomb-blast case and the BJP have already benefitted from the Mumbai attacks, in this respect, since the attention of the news-media has been diverted completely.
So, ultimately, the Islamist militants who attacked Mumbai appear to have come to rescue of the Hindus accused of terrorism in Malegaon. It seems as if there is greater solidarity amongst the Hindus and Muslims who are terrorists than those who are the common citizens of India. As a matter of fact, India might not have been a victim of terrorism at all if there had been greater solidarity between the majority community i.e. Hindus and the various minorities like Muslims, Sikhs and Christians.
I have seen in this country something that can only be termed as 'selective grief'. Whereas there is a huge outpouring of grief and rightly so, from all over the country, when nearly 200 people are killed in a terrorist attack, it is also true that there are large numbers of people who celebrate the killings of 2000 or 4000 people during communal riots by rewarding politicians widely perceived as having organised and presided over these with huge electoral victories, as happened in the elections for the Gujarat state legislature in 2002 and for the Lok Sabha in 1984, following anti-Muslim and anti-Sikh riots, respectively. Many of these politicians, as pointed out earlier, are now protected by personnel of the same NSG that battled against terrorists in Mumbai over the past few days. It is almost needless to add that these powerful men and women have been able to successfully prevent or stall legal proceedings against the majority of those responsible for communal violence or, when proceedings have been completed, to have them acquitted of most of the charges. Factors like these help provide fresh local recruits to terrorist organisations, in the form of actual combatants as well as those who provide logistical support.
*Updates to original blog-post, on December 04, 2008.