For most of watching television in the evening of November 26, 2008, the first news of gunshots in Mumbai, India’s commercial capital, made us think there was some underworld gang war on. We never imagined that Mumbaikars would undergo a horrendous experience over the next four days following a terror strike by Pakistan-backed terrorists of the Lashkar-e- Taiba.
12 years have gone by but we can’t forget events of those awful few days. There is no doubt whatsoever that the authorities were caught napping. They probably didn’t expect terrorists to approach by sea. Besides, these terrorists were well-trained, well-armed and well- indoctrinated : to create as much havoc as they could and kill as many people as they could before they themselves were killed.
Images of the iconic Taj Mahal hotel on fire, the attack on the Jewish Chabad House, and the main railway station in Mumbai the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus have stayed fresh in our minds. By the time the authorities woke up to what was happening, the terrorists had seized the early advantage and cashed in on their early successes. This resulted in 166 Indians being killed before nine of the 10 terrorists were killed and one – Ajmal Kasab – was captured alive.
Even an attack of this magnitude did not deter our politicians from attempting to further their cause. Some Congress supporters insinuated that it was a plot by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Interestingly, later another Commissioner of Police of Mumbai, Rakesh Maria IPS said that the LeT had planned to portray that Kasab was actually a Hindu from Bangalore in the course of this attack..
There were many stories of heroism. Not every hero/heroine wore uniform. Men and women of the Taj and Oberoi Hotels risked their lives to protect their guests in the turmoil. It is difficult to single out some amazing acts of bravery. However, one must mention Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, just 31, who led the NSG in fighting the terrorists in the Taj Mahal Hotel, who was killed on November 28.
On that same day, one who was probably the bravest of the brave also laid down his life. 54 year old Tukaram Ombale, a former soldier in the Indian Army and now a policeman with the Mumbai Police showed enormous courage in actually holding on to the AK 47 being fired by Ajmal Kasab. He took many bullets in the bargain but his act of stupendous bravery helped the colleagues nab Kasab.
For the record, Kasab was hanged to death in November 2012 but catching one terrorist alive gave credence to India’s claim over decades that it was Pakistan which was behind all the infiltration in Kashmir and elsewhere. Most Indians expected the Government of India to retaliate in some way, later if not immediately after the terror strike. But like after the attack on India’s Parliament in 2001, sadly nothing of the sort happened.
I sincerely hope we have learnt from our mistakes of 2008. As always a High Level Inquiry Committee was set up in December that year to analyze what went wrong and how effectively or otherwise our security forces had acted. They submitted their report to the Government of Maharashtra. I have no idea which recommendations have been implemented and which haven’t but without doubt most of the flak fell on Hassan Gafoor, then Police Commissioner of Mumbai.
From a common sense point of view, I can say though that the media must not be allowed to report moment by moment as they did in 2008. The handlers of the terrorists fed off these reports and were able to guide them to change positions and strategies based on these reports. Yes, we are a democracy and ties, we have freedom of the press but it should not be so used to give undue advantage to our enemies at the cost of our own people.