By Quaid Najmi
Mumbai, Nov 23 (IANS) Five years since the diabolic Mumbai assault by 10 heavily armed gunmen from Pakistan, an attack that shook India and whose images reverberated across the world, the terror strike seems to have almost faded from public memory like an old nightmare, as survivors and families of victims, and the people of the city, get on with their lives.
Barring the symbolic memorial services and the ritualistic media coverage, there are barely any evident emotions that betray those 60 hours that traumatised the nation’s financial and entertainment capital. The final toll in that attack was 166 people, including 26 foreign nationals. The attack left 300 injured, besides huge damage to public and private properties. The toll on the nation’s social-political psyche was even higher.
As the anniversary of the attacks approaches, memories of those attacks flicker, again.
“Whatever happened was indeed sad, and should not have happened. We remember the victims. Now, all of us must move ahead and think of the future,” said software consultant Dukul Pandya of Vile Parle who stayed awake during the Nov 26-28, 2008, terror attack and watched the unfolding drama live on television, like millions worldwide.
Middle-class housewife K.S. Minakshi of Borivli told IANS: “That was a huge national tragedy and everybody felt bad about it, especially for the innocent victims. But we are constantly facing major problems of the basics in daily life, like the galloping inflation.”
She feels that the people must face the present and plan for the future while the government must ensure that incidents like 26/11 are not repeated.
Five years ago, 10 heavily armed Pakistani terrorists sneaked into Mumbai through the virtually unguarded Arabian Sea route.
Leaving Karachi shores a few days earlier, they hijacked an Indian fishing vessel, killed its crew and then landed in India’s commercial capital in a rubber dinghy on the cold evening of Nov 26.
Alighting on a small bay near Colaba, they unobtrusively divided themselves into groups of two or three and systematically went after their targets.
According to subsequent investigations, three of them – Abdul Rehman, Abu Ali and Abu Soheb – went to the Leopold Cafe in Colaba and then Taj Mahal Palace Hotel; two others – Abdul Rehman Chota and Fahad Ullah – headed to the Trident-Oberoi Hotel.
Two more – Nasir Abu Umar and Babar Imran alias Abu Aakasha – targeted Nariman House; the final trio – Isamal Khan, Abu Ismail and Ajmal Amir Kasab -unleashed terror on the busy Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) and later in Cama Hospital.
All the targeted locations fall within a radius of around five kilometers of the congested south Mumbai, housing the state government headquarters, the residences of ministers, bureaucrats, scientists, top business personalities and others.
Nine of the terrorists – all except 22-year-old Kasab – were gunned down in the combined security operations by Mumbai Police, army and naval commandos and other paramilitary forces who battled them for 60 hours.
In the early hours of Nov 27, barely five hours after they launched the mayhem, Kasab was caught alive following a fierce gun battle with police officials near the historic Chowpatty.
At that time, Kasab and his accomplice Abu Ismail were speeding in a hijacked car towards the sensitive Malabar Hill where the Raj Bhavan and the chief minister’s official residence, besides that of other important functionaries, are located.
In the final analysis, the 10-strong team targeted the world heritage building, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Hotel Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, Hotel Trident, Nariman House, Leopold Cafe, Cama Hospital, Wadi Bunder which is the hub of shipping and transport agencies, and a bomb exploded in one of the taxis taken by them at Vile Parle, a quiet upper middle-class residential locality.
An aggressive Mumbai Police interrogated Kasab, investigated the matter, and identified and named 35 accused directly or indirectly responsible for the 26/11 terror attacks.
The investigators made an air-tight case against Kasab, the sole terrorist nabbed alive while the state government handed over the trial to top criminal lawyer Ujjwal Nikam. As Special Public Prosecutor, Nikam successfully participated in the trial right from the Special Court in Mumbai to Bombay High Court and finally the Supreme Court.
While the trial was in progress, Maharashtra Home Minister R.R. Patil ordered the secret burial of the nine slain terrorists whose bodies were kept in tight security in an air-conditioned morgue in Sir J.J. Hospital, at considerable expense to the state exchequer, in January 2010.
On May 6, 2010, Kasab was awarded the death sentence after getting all legal privileges.
Kasab challenged the death verdict right up to the Supreme Court.
Rejected by the apex court, he tried his luck with the President of India, appealing for mercy, but even that was rejected.
Kasab was quietly hanged inside the Yerawada Central Jail, Pune Nov 21, 2012, and his body buried somewhere on the jail campus.
Not surprisingly, all actions post-26/11 by the Indian and Maharashtra government, including the disposal of the bodies, met with no international opposition, barring some stray voices from Pakistan.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)