When terrorists took the amphibian route to land near the Gateway of India at Mumbai, and unveiled their savagely diabolical designs on November 26, 2008, it became clear that their attack was no ordinary terror operation. The bearing of the commandoes and the manner in which they handled their weapons, plus the way the reconnaissance of the places had been done, suggested that they belonged to the Special Forces of some army. Their weapons, too, as discovered from the arrested terrorist, Amir Ajmal Kasab, were Special Forces regulation sub-machine guns Hechler & Koch MP 5A3, rather than AK-47. The three day siege that left more than 200 dead and several hundreds injured was nothing short of a military attack on Indian soil.
The terror attacks directed at high value targets like the Taj Mahal Hotel and Oberoi along with the Chatrapati Shivaji Station (VT) met many nefarious objectives. Besides deepening the country's old fears of invaders coming by sea, it succeeded in exacerbating the tensions between India and Pakistan by short-circuiting the peace process. The terrorist strike raised disturbing questions about our lackadaisical security apparatus and the manner in which the security forces responded to it. It took more than 60 hours to smoke out the ten odd terrorists. Nearly every arm of the State was deployed, but due to poor planning and execution, the siege dragged on.
The bizarre manner in which three top police officers, including chief of Maharashtra Anti-Terror Squad Hemant Karkare, was killed, also raised serious questions about the circumstances of their death. More so, because Karkare was investigating the involvement of Hindutva chauvinist groups (with alleged Sangh Parivar linkages) in a series of bomb blasts all over the country. Earlier, these blasts were blamed on radical Muslim outfits. Karkare's killing, who had got a death threat the previous day, stoked many conspiracy theories about the real reasons behind the terror attack. Union Minister for Minority Affairs, AR Antulay, gave expression to these anxieties among those who are suspicious of the Hindutva Parivar and their relentless, sinister attempts to communalise society. Antulay's demand for a probe drew a hostile reaction from those who thought that there could be no contrarian view on the terror attack as it would dilute the country's position that Pakistan or "elements" there were behind the attack.
This impatience towards Antulay's views and those who supported his cause hark back to the belligerent nationalistic mood that prevailed in the US in the wake of the World Trade Center attack on September 11, 2001. Indian TV anchors jettisoned objectivity and began to stoke the kind of jingoism not seen before. Imagery was created that the Mumbai attack was India's 9/11 and therefore the country had to respond similarly. Channels led a fascistic campaign to delegitimise democracy by rubbishing politicians and demanding their heads. Cosmetically, a mood of anger against the system was fleshed out by TV channels that demanded more muscular response. In a space of three weeks, the government set up a federal National Investigating Agency (NIA) and pushed a tough terror law. Both these steps would not have had easy passage if the Mumbai blasts had not taken place, as they violate the federal character of our Constitution. These draconian laws give more power in the hands of an extremely repressive police force that has the inglorious tradition of creating baghis (rebels) out of innocents, mass resentment, despair and anger, due to their brutish, often unconstitutional and hamhanded ways. Besides, as past experiences with laws like POTA and TADA prove, majority of victims turned out to be ordinary citizens, who had nothing to do with terrorism. Ideally, the government should have beefed up its intelligence machinery. There is evidence to show that the agencies knew about the movement of terrorists towards Mumbai.
These are dangerous times in the region. One hopes that the Indian government does not embark on any adventurism - goaded as it is by western powers and a section of the jingoistic media - against Pakistan. It should engage in a world class probe and share with the world community all the evidence before it mulls military action. Any foolhardy, ill-considered decision could bring the dark ages back to the sub-continent.