[dropcap]T[/dropcap]en Pakistani terrorists, members of Lashkar-e-Toiba to be precise, sailed through the Indian maritime area along the west coast undetected. They struck at the heart of this country’s financial capital Mumbai this day, eight years ago, even as two unprepared governments — the Union and the State of Maharashtra — scrambled for options to bring an end to the three-day stand-off and mayhem.
Through 12 coordinated terror attacks using bombs and bullets, Ajmal Qasab (spelt mostly as Kasab in India) and gang killed 164 civilians, including some security personnel, while all his accomplices were killed, too. Qasab was hanged on 21 November 2012. Pakistan reluctantly admitted he was a Pakistani.
Qasab’s handler based in that country, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, is out on bail after depositing Pakistani Rs 2,00,000 as a surety bond at a lower court in a case framed in such a manner by the prosecutors that it is more likely he will be acquitted.
While brave policemen like chief of ATS Hemant Karkare, sub-inspector Tukaram Gopal Ombale, ACP Ashok Kamte, senior police inspector Vijay Salaskar and National Security Guards (NSG) commando Sandeep Unnikrishnan are rightfully remembered for coming in the way of the terrorists, we must also salute the Good Samaritan among civilians who rose to the occasion. But one cop who is hardly recalled must be named here. RPF constable Jillu Yadav, a policeman who took on the gang and yet survived, had hurled a chair at Qasab when the rifle he had grabbed from a GRP cop could not match the might of the terrorists’ AK-47s.
Karambir Kang, general manager of the Taj Hotel, is one such name. He kept rescuing guests at the hotel, even as his wife and two sons died of asphyxiation in the smoke billowing from the inferno that the terrorists had turned a section of the hotel into.
Ravi Dharnidhirka, while formerly being a captain in the US Marine Corps, was not an Indian soldier on duty. Finding himself in the situation, he, along with his friends who were South African commandos, rescued up to 157 guests from the same hotel.
On noticing the militants at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, announcers Bablu Kumar and Vishnu Zende made an excuse to tell the people to leave the station from the exit at the rear end of the platforms without revealing the seriousness of the situation. “I was taking down the arrival and departure of two outstation trains as I heard some blasts on platform 9. I believed them to be bomb blasts and immediately made an announcement asking the passengers to move out of the station from platform 13,” Kumar said. “It was a terrible sight, but I am glad I could save the lives of several others,” Zende said. “In fact, this has been a learning ground. We have learned never to let our guard down. And if, god forbid, such an attack is launched on CST again, we will be able to handle it better,” he added.
The saga involves the contribution of a dog as well. Max was a sniffer dog who saved hundreds of lives by detecting 8 kg of RDX outside Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. He died, retired, in April this year.
Amid all this heroism, the entity that came across as worthless was the two governments of the time. The Congress government in Maharashtra added insult to injury with the comment of then Deputy Chief Minister RR Patil. He remarked, “Small incidents do happen in big cities.” Then Chief Minister, the late Vilasrao Deshmukh, was no less callous when he took his actor son Riteish Deshmukh and filmmaker Ramgopal Varma for some sort of a terror tourism through the terror-ravaged Taj Hotel.
On its part, the UPA government at the Centre delayed sending NSG commandos to the affected city from different parts of the country. After the NSG bases were spread out in the aftermath of 26/11, for at least two consecutive years newspapers reported that the measure was still inadequate to meet the challenge of a big terrorist attack.
During the battle between the terrorists and the security forces, several television channels spelt out in their broadcast the positions taken by soldiers, thus informing the Pakistani handlers of Qasab how to avoid the security personnel and launch a counter-offensive against them.
Nobody was arguably as cunning or politically motivated as the bourgeoisie. Through their candlelight marches, seminars, condolence meetings, etc, they created an impression that it was hardly a political issue and any other party at the helm at the time would have handled the situation as badly. The Congress-led UPA retained power in the general election held next year. Arguably, those stupefied by the outcome of 2009 burst out in rebellion in the name of an anti-corruption movement in 2011.