Thursday, February 12, 2009

MUMBAI 26/11: LOCAL SUPPORT AND VOTE BANK POLITICS

Narendra Modi, for all his well publicised faults, has a knack of bringing back into focus issues that should have never gone out of it. A couple of days back, he said that the "smallest of persons knows" that a terror attack of the scale that was launched on Mumbai on November 26, 2008, could not have been launched without some local support. The UPA government, according to him, was shying away from taking any action due to vote bank politics. Home Minister P Chidambaram responded by evading a direct answer and by asking in turn whether Mr. Modi was in contact with Pakistan.

It is perhaps worth recalling certain significant facts that had emerged immediately after the attacks but which have clearly not been followed up, or at least that is what is seems.
  • Naval commandos who were among the first to engage terrorists in Taj Hotel recovered a rucksack left behind by them. The contents of this rucksack were shown by many TV channels and included, among other things, cash and seven credit cards including those of top Indian banks like the ICICI, HSBC, HDFC, Axis and CITI bank.
  • Fake Indian identity cards were also found on the person of all terrorists. Ajmal Kasab, the lone terrorist captured alive, was carrying a fake ID card of Arunodaya Degree College of Hyderabad, in the name of Naresh Verma.
  • The terrorists were completely familiar with the layout of the hotels and moved around the buildings with practiced ease. Their knowledge of the layout was first brought out by the Naval commandos and later confirmed by Ratan Tata himself. "There seems to be no doubt that they knew their way around the hotel," he said, "They seemed to know it in the night, or in the daytime. They seemed to have planned their moves quite well, and there seem to have been a lot of pre-planning in terms of what they did and how they managed to carry on for three days and sustain themselves during that time."
  • There were early reports that the terrorists had checked in and stayed in the hotels on a previous trip to familiarise themselves thoroughly. These were, however, dismissed by Mumbai Police Commissioner Hasan Gafoor who said that terrorists "were shown detailed plans". Such thorough knowledge, based only on blueprints?
  • The way they were able to sustain themselves for three days without running out of ammunition and explosives suggests that much more of the lethal stuff than they carried in their rucksacks had been smuggled into the hotel prior to the attack and placed at locations precisely marked during previous reconnaissance missions.
  • The IB had initially said that it suspected that the terrorists had been provided logistic support by members of the Dawood Ibrahim gang.
Ajmal Kasab has apparently given shocking details to his investigators about the the role and activities of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, terror training camps etc in Pakistan. Based on the information given by him, MV Kuber, the boat used by the terrorists has been found and a lot of other leads have been followed up enabling India to confidently send a huge dossier to Pakistan and other countries containing evidence of the involvement of powerful elements of the state in the terror attack.

Is it not surprising that Ajmal has spoken only about the Pakistan end of the operations and has remained silent about what exactly was done in India during the planning and execution stages of the attack? Is it possible that he has not even been asked the following questions, if not more, by the investigators?
  • How and when did he and other members of his gang get Indian credit and identity cards? Who helped them get these documents?
  • Since they were to sink the boat they used to land in Mumbai, where were they to go to and whose assistance were they to get after completing their mission and escaping? How long were they to stay in India and where before going back to Pakistan?
  • How and when did they familiarise themselves so thoroughly with the hotel layout?
  • How many times did he and/or other members of his group visit Mumbai earlier to carry out reconnaissance? Where did they stay then and for how long?
  • Who pre-placed ammunition and explosives in the Taj?
In a lively discussion on the Face the Nation program on CNN-IBN on February 11, 2009, IDSA Fellow Dr Sreeradha Datta was candid enough to admit in response to a question by Sagarika Ghose that "If you look at the proportions of the attack, it would not have been possible without some kind of logistical support from within India. These kind of actions cannot take place by people just walking into a particular state and doing what they did." Why is it that more than two and a half months after the attack, there is total silence on this critical and vital aspect of the worst terror attack that India has faced?

Is Narendra Modi right in accusing the government of playing vote bank politics in view of the forthcoming elections? Are the electoral prospects of the ruling alliance more important than the safety and security of the country and the lives of ordinary citizens? Yes, even the "smallest of persons" can make out that ten terrorists could not have just got into a boat in Pakistan and successfully held India to ransom for three days. Had logistic support been provided to them by the underworld or by other Pakistani nationals based in India, there is little doubt that the government would have by now arrested/exposed them and made a huge international issue of it, as further evidence of Pakistan's involvement.

The fact that no one in the establishment is now speaking of it does raise some uncomfortable questions that have to be faced squarely. If indeed some Indians are involved, then it is important that they are quickly identified and punished and their involvement not allowed to degenerate into communal stereotypes. The longer the government remains in denial, the greater will be the perceptual damage. It is also important that the government brings everything out honestly and transparently so that the ordinary citizen knows that his life is not being put in danger only because of petty political considerations.

UPDATE

News is coming in that Pakistan that has owned up by and large to the evidence given by India. It should be evident to all that the denial has turned into confession not because of the dossier that India sent but due to the evidence that the Americans have confronted Pakistan with behind closed doors.

Significantly, Pakistan has admitted that only a part of the conspiracy was hatched in Pakistan and is suggesting that part of it was done in India. There lies the sting. India has 'uncovered' everything about what happened in Pakistan but has not been able to find anything about the Indian angle. Watch this space. Plenty of dirt ahead. Perhaps some people in the Indian establishment have blood on their hands.