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Once Was Mumbai

By Kumar Ketkar

28 November 2008
Indian Express

Even otherwise, the city of Mumbai is explosive. But everytime there is a terrorist attack, the metropolis is gripped by a kind of fear psychosis. The attack on “A Wednesday” (what a morbid coincidence!), proved yet again that the so-called “courageous” and “resilient” Mumbaikar is rapidly getting used to mayhem and murder. That is not a reflection of courage or of collective sanity, but of the desensitisation of the mass mind.

That the terrorist attack took place just when the media was full of stories of “saffron terrorism” may be a coincidence, but the killing of Hemant Karkare, the chief of the Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS), gives the event an anti-climactic turn. The Sangh Parivar and the Shiv Sena had gone to town for almost a month, aggressively campaigning against the ATS and virtually running a propaganda drive to condemn Karkare as an anti-Hindu and anti-national officer. Karkare was known for his upright character and courage, as well as for his patriotism. With his long experience in RAW, he strongly believed that terrorism has no colour and creed. He worked tirelessly, and arrested those who were engaged in terrorist acts, irrespective of faith. As long as the suspects arrested were Muslims, he received applause. But the moment he caught extremist Hindus, and collected evidence against them, he became a villain in the eyes of the Sangh Parivar and the Sena.

Now that he has lost his life fighting the terrorists — who are believed to be part of the global Taliban-ISI-Al Qaeda network — the sinister campaign against him has turned on its head. Karkare had monitored international terrorist operations and splits, as well as “splits within splits” in the ISI, and was following the threads of the groups who were also working against the Pakistani state. The tragedy is that along with him, two other brave very senior police officers, Ashok Kamte and Vijay Salaskar, have also been killed by the terrorists. Intellectuals, talking heads and the media will now routinely condemn the state and central governments for failure in gathering intelligence and not having a “disaster management plan”. But the fact is the city of Mumbai has gone beyond any disaster management plan. This is because disaster is a way of life in this vast, totally disconnected and uncontrollably grown metropolis, where there are a crore and a half people, but no social and community life. That is why any appeal for a sectarian and identity-based movement instantly galvanises those groups. They then go on a rampage to prove their otherwise lost and neglected socio-psychological existence. Sometimes it is Marathi, at other times it is “Maratha’, then it is Dalit and then this sudden rise of the “Brahmin”. Hundreds and thousands of Brahmins have been organising huge, purely caste-based mass conferences, taking a cue from Dalits and Marathas. Their language is militant, and they claim their interests are being “criminally” neglected by the political class.

Almost everyday there is a “rasta rok” or stone-throwing, railway service disruption, bandh or straight forward arson and looting. No Mumbaikar can plan his day, nor is he sure of reaching home in one piece. If this is routine, the terrorist attack just multiplies the insecurity and uncertainty of life. In such explosive conditions, where the police and the politicians are both distrusted by the people, it is not easy to collect intelligence. The so called intelligence failure is an inevitable result of the fractured police, political skullduggery, and destruction of community life.

The terrorist attack of March 1993 followed the destruction of the Babri Masjid, and large-scale communal riots ensued. But it must also be remembered that the January 1993 communal inferno was limited to Mumbai and the systematic killing of Muslims in the city. Since then, there has been a cycle of terrorist attacks almost every year, and every time there is this benumbing of mind and body. The only difference is in the methods used by the terrorists. It is difficult to say whether the “Hindu terrorism” is a reaction to “Muslim terrorism”, or the whole cycle began with extremist Hindus destroying the Babri Masjid.

Mumbai did not have either a communal history or this kind of terrorist cycle before the nineties. Mumbai was known for gang wars and mafia chains. Normal city life was not disturbed by those gang wars. Moreover, cynically speaking, the mafia was “secular”, in the sense that Hindu and Muslim mafiosi worked in perfect tandem. The growth of the real estate and the builder-contractor lobby slowly brought the mafia into the life of the city’s middle-class. Selling or buying flats could not be done without those “service providers”. So the city’s sprawling middle-class not only tolerated the dons — small or big — but also used them to sort out their problems. It was not... exactly bonhomie, but a kind of co-existence.

The first stage was communalisation of the mafia, during the movement against Babri Masjid. Then came the legitimacy given to communal politics. That was followed by the nexus between the Muslim or Hindu politicians with their respective “friendly” mafia. This divisive politics was further vitiated by the politics of language, caste and religion. Today, no Mumbaikar swears by the city he lives in. He swears by his “identity”. The so-called intelligence wing of the police, which is nothing more than an extension of the police force, has also been infected by this sectarian virus. One does not yet know the mastermind behind this terrorist attack. But surely, he knows the fractured fabric of life in this city. He knows that even about two dozen organised terrorists can hold a city of one and a half crore people to ransom. The hostages counting their minutes under the guns were a most bizarre manifestation of the people of Mumbai, who are
hostages to the anarchy that is Mumbai.

The writer is editor, ‘Loksatta’

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