Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Siege in Mumbai: Who to get pissed at

All through the 59 hours that the Mumbai siege lasted, I talked to a number of people: over the phone, via SMS, IM, Facebook and Twitter . I kept my inputs mixed - I didn't just focus on those who were social media savvy.

I watched as much of the Indian news channels as I could humanly take. Its a very punishing way to spend four days off for Thanksgiving.

When the city had been reclaimed, a lot of post mortems began. There was outrage - innumerable people doled out advice. A lot of searching questions were asked.

And yes, as is the case in circumstances such as these - people needed to hang the blame somewhere. I'm not being critical of the need to blame: its a fairly natural reaction. And its necessary to help with the outpouring of emotion.

Which is why I jotted down the most significant entities that were identified as culprits.

The Terrorists

This is a no-brainer. Tremendous baddua for the perpetrators of terror and their progeny (although you have to assume there won't be any) poured out from the anya relatives I spoke with. One crazy uncle detailed an alarmingly violent method of punishment to be carried out immediately. But most of the terrorists are either dead or largely faceless (given that some escaped). As such they don't feel concrete enough for focussed wrath. Most of the junta feel the need to latch on to a larger target for their anger.


Most Indians assumed that Pakistan was integral to the attacks . What a lot of people were wondering was - was this a state sanctioned attack? The chances of that seem to be dim - Pakistan wouldn't muck around with something of this magnitude officially, not with the Americans breathing down their back. And increasingly, they have less incentive to do so. But as is well accepted, the state is scarcely in control of the country. Terrorism can still emanate from Pakistan without an overt state sponsored engagement.

But going down this route represents a no-win situation for India. Share evidence with them and the reportedly corrupt secret service will use it to plug their intelligence leaks. Get into a war of words and you'll lose valuable time and energy towards doing something meaningful. Deploy troops along the Kashmir border and it'll be downright madness.

The Government

Politicians are an easy target - they always have been and justifiably so. Once an incident like this occurs, no reconciliatory action seems acceptable. The people of Mumbai are pissed - especially when Netas call for the city to fight back. No one, it seems, wants to bounce back. They just want someone to start taking steps to prevent this from happening again. You can't counter terrorism with pure defense (and the aggressive approach - regardless of what criticism you level at it - is something the US has been largely successful with post-911).

But you need the right competence in the right places to solve this problem. And above all, you need someone focussed on terror intelligence and accountable for it.

The Media

There are a number of reasons people are pissed at the TV Media. First is the type of coverage: sensationalist, almost predatory. It felt like the media was spinning a mammoth tragedy for personal profit. Second, the media might largely be responsible for fulfilling the terrorists' eventual mission - large scale global exposure and mass hysteria. Third, the media's constant need to keep the story refreshed, which resulted in them breaking information on the air that was sensitive to the operation in progress.

There will eventually have to be parameters set up for the press to operate in at times like this. It should create a more responsible media. But for now, despite the detailed, constant and in some cases, innovative coverage - this wasn't TV Media's finest hour.


Scan through the Al Jazeera forums and you'll find plenty of people laying the blame at the feet of Zionism . What they are essentially asking for is a consideration of the entire ecosystem in place that gives rise to terrorism. Its not a crazy argument purely in terms of its systemic approach - although at a time like this it seems like one. Whether you agree with it or not, its a trivial bit of argumentation. Everything begins somewhere. Cause and effect is cyclical. It doesn't justify an act of this proportion.


When America tightened up security post 911, things started looking bleak for India. How so? Because starved of easy targets, the terrorists had to look elsewhere. And there is no country that is a big target for terrorists and full of security holes more so than India. For every security arrangement I see in the country I can think of two ways to circumvent it - and I don't have to think really hard either.

We the People

People may disagree about the Mumbai Siege on a number of things, but they all seem to agree on one thing: complacency will eventually set in. This apathy is what leads to lapses in security, an opening for terrorists to exploit. Give the Indians enough time, the thinking seems to be, and we'll prime ourselves for another one of these.

There is some truth to this: life goes on and especially in a country where you have to meet innumerable challenges on a daily basis, its easy to push national security on the back burner. In addition because Indians tend to apply a lot of topical and local intelligence to every situation, prescribed security processes seem almost impossible to implement uniformly on a large scale.  Ironically this very nature of how our country operates means that the key to stopping terrorist activities, at least in the short term, may well come from the citizens themselves.

Raj N. Sippy

Ok, Raj Sippy didn't have anything to do with this. But in what we all hope will be a new era of accountability in India, shouldn't the director of Jimmy be held responsible for something?

BBC's timeline of the events, key site map
Dipity's video timeline
Tweeting the Mumbai Attacks


Anonymous said...

Good for Nothing Starlets like Raveena Tandon , Shilpa Broadlip Shetty made comments like enough is enough and poor shilpa could have died in this carnage.
Meda is the most irresponsible and their reporting is pityful.

Joules said...

We can point the finger in every direction but our anger should be focussed on the men who carried the attacks and the countries that harbor them. Democratic govt's can do much when some one is determined to kill themselves and take other people along. However I think the govt must have been more prepared in its response.

A shameless plug for my blog. I have some write up on victoria terminus

Unknown said...

Speaking of which, anyone who wants to sign Vishal Dadlani's PIL against the media broadcasts can do so here:

Anonymous said...

I think the terrorists realised that the way to get worldwide media attention (hysteria) is to mention Americans and Britains and (the rich). They really weren't getting anywhere when only the "ordinary" Indians were the targets as with the Hyderabad, Jaipur, Delhi, bombay train stations,etc.,etc.,bombings of the last few years.

Anonymous said...

Not just get pissed..but also keep the WRATH alive people!

All the peope whose blogs I read, articles, tv interviews I saw over the last 4 days- those with detailed analysis on what went wrong, what should have been done different by police, media etc..lot of them seemed to be treating this as some kind of 'act of nature' like the tsunami. They were so busy focusing their wrath on the slow Indian response and everything else. Sure put your house in order but before you tell the Indian gov how to go about it, show abhorrence to those people who made an active choice to come after you and your city (whatever religion they follow).

Thats why Aspi I was thrilled to see you put terrorists on top of the list so many people forgot to do this.

..also add to the list of who to get pissed at..CNN coverage. If you didnt watch this, then you saved yourself extreme frustration at the biased, inaccurate and random silliness of this coverage. one gem " India is a spiritual land of Hardwar etc. People are more spiritual than aggressive and one doesnt associate these kinds of attacks there." Hellooo people where where you the last 50 years?

musical said...

Well said! But deep down i wonder, how long will it take before we get back to the usual mud slinging and internal fighting that goes on in our country.....and i mean stuff like this:

Thanks for the pointer to the PIL. I completely agree with the need for more sensibility and sensitivity when it comes to covering such operation. Though, isn't it sad that this needs to be said??

Unknown said...

I read a report of a Canadian actor who said his acting experience helped him survive the ordeal at the Taj. Apparently, when the bullets were fired, he pretended to be dead. True story.

That Vada Pav link is hilarious.

Anonymous said...

The issue on responsible media broadcasts is an an important one. Here is a link to a harrowing and miraculous escape which mentions this issue.
For those interested, the couple will be on Charlie Rose tonight to speak about their experience.

If you don't get a chance to listen to the long version (about 18 minutes), the location of about 200 plus people holed up in the Chambers a private club at the Taj hotel was compromised when a Member of Parliament spoke to a TV station (CNN or CNN-IBN) and outed the location of the group. Shortly after, firefighting between the commandos and the terrorists broke out and endangered everyone and killed some of those hiding in the Chambers. The PIL is a good first step to bringing attention to the responsibility to the media.

Anonymous said...

Aspi, I have a few questions.

What about the other reports about Juhu Ramada, Marriot and and some other places? Are they true or just weird misinformation and rumors?

Also, I probably believe the Pakistani Government with its denials. But it should also be mentioned that the Indian embassy bombings in Kabul, India pointed the finger at the ISI. They denied and then the U.S. CIA confirmed it. It's basically stated as fact in the Western newspapers that bring up Kabul. Yet the Gov't still denies it.

But yeah, I don't think the Gov't sanctioned/supported the attack. But doesn't mean it can't be state sanctioned/supported because of the fact that the Govt doesn't have full control over the military and the Intelligence services.

As far as the Indian gov't. The fact that it took them until this to realize they have to get serious is maddening. The stories about the police vests not even working, it all just shows the incompetence of the bureaucracy.

Anonymous said...

Also google maps, which mentions some of the unconfirmed reports.,72.839785&spn=0.062676,0.11158&z=14

Unknown said...

Lin, not sure about those other reports. I started following things in detail only after the first 12 hours or so. But the Google Map markers is a wonderful thing because you are able to visualize things so well.

You also make a good point about state sponsored terrorism. The ISI is probably the most powerful single body in Pakistan and its embedded with people sympathetic to the Al Qaida cause.

Anonymous said...

oh gawd i have a LOT to say about this and i will type them out tomorrow when i'm not high.. k thanx

Anonymous said...

There's a cynic in me that keeps waiting for a couple of weeks to pass - that's when we'll know if all this "outrage" was just hot air or if it actually meant something. If we're able to defy our past track record and manage to learn something from this attack, then at least we'd make those 200+ deaths count for something other than the terrorists' cause.

Anonymous said...

Hi Aspi,the website is blank?

Joules said...

Amrita, agreed. I also think we tend to get lost in tangential stories. The story of the Kerala CM (as horrible as it is) or the RGV story (whether he went to the Taj site) will not improve on the situation the next time we are hit. I think everyone should focus on more constructive means of figuring out what we can do better for the next time. I have some thoughts on my blog.

Unknown said...

Malz, bear with us: got inundated with so many hits it went down hard. Vishal is working with Dreamhost to try and bring it up and its been frustrating how long its taking.

Joules, congrats on the new blog!

Amrita, there is a post in there for you. Whats the one practical thing you would like to see that will be enduring. I can't think of one but it might be a great writing/thinking exercise.

musical said...

Aspi, thanks a ton for the update on Will pass it on to friends who could not sign up y'day.

Anonymous said...

I'm just pissed in general at the whole situation. For me, the terrorist and the media go hand in hand. I mean, I'm pissed at the countries that are at the root of all this hatred as well. Last week, listening to the American media, people are just so very ignorant and it pissed me off more than the India Media (if that's possible at this point!!)

A popular CBS radio achorman-person was talking about the bombing and the attacks and all of a sudden said "WHo knew so many non-Indians are in Mumbai. And since when did they change the name of the city from Bombay!" I was fuming when I heard this...I mean, COME ON!! Are you F-IN kidding me!!

Unknown said... is up (off and on anyway). Be patient with it. Please use your real name and email when registering. If you aren't comfy doing so, then no problems, you aren't any less of a supporter. But please don't fake it.

Joules, you are a cat? I should have known :)

gg, meena pointed out something similar. I tend to start chuckling uncontrollably when this sort of stuff starts happening. I remember leading someone on in Texas when asked about snakes on the streets in India. But these guys will go away, they'll be replaced with more sophisticated, global people. Just a matter of time.

musical said...

You get asked about snakes, and i get question about elephants that roam on the streets of India :). And someone once told me with a lot of pride, as to how his son had "picked up" (these were the exact words used) a lil' girl child from the streets of New Delhi! Picked up?? I mean, treat the kid with some dignity!

Gg, i want to share something similar: There's a Russian, now American citizen, guy at work. His brother was visiting Bangalore. And this dude comes and tells me, "You know, they have plasma TVs in the hotel there!! I couldn't have imagined". You get the picture.....

Sorry, such things always push me into "rant" mode.

Joules said...

Guys, what do you expect? The only time India makes it into the news is when someone is trying to make it into the guiness book of world record.

Ofcourse, now everyone wants to add Bollywood to their vocabulary. Saw Al Gore the other day mention bollywood.

justanotherfishinthesea said...

Okay, here it goes. I have been a big bundle of nerves, watching non-stop livefeeds of the NDTV coverage. I did not bother to watch the CNN coverage as I knew they would just have these random experts on, who would just say stuff, when I happen to know more about the situation than they do. Something to get off my chest here, but here it goes. When the event first happened, I had some irrational anger at the Pakistani government. Personally, I am embarrassed by it, but it was a gut reaction. I have cousins that I have never met, only seen, living in Karachi right now. The situation there is unstable if we anyone remembers the instability there over the spring. My uncle works behind the scenes for Geo, and he talked about how dangerous it was for them to do their jobs during that period. It is absolutely irrational how mad I was at the ISI; it isn't like India does not have its own internal problems either. Honestly, I am just mad at the stuff coming up from there. It does not help that Zaridari has no political skills whatsoever and basically used the reverence Pakistan had his for his wife to gain a place in power. They have no control anymore over the situation, but I don't believe escalating tensions along the border will do any good like you said. My dad visited Pakistan in the 60s, the NWP and talked of how open-minded and nice people were there. Well, I tell him things have surely changed now. Granted, he was about 10 so his memory may be fuzzy. They have not been lucky with their political history since independence for sure. And it makes me wonder how my life and perspective would be vastly different had my maternal grandparents decided differently and moved to Pakistan from Uttar Pradesh. They were close to doing it, which is why I am a bit startled to have felt so angry on Thursday initially. I guess it is kind of like being slighted. When the WTC attacks happened I was young and too dumbfounded to react, now that I am older, I tend to react a bit more emotionally because I am more self-aware.
As far as the coverage goes, it was beyond zealous. True. I did not see the worst of it, but I find it beyond the pale that people from India TV were talking with the freaking terrorists as the attack was going on. They are going for the sensational aspect of things, but I did appreciate this in one way. Quite frankly for these American eyes, it was nice not to see sanitized coverage. Maybe it was not the classiest thing, but I feel when our media whitewashes things i.e. the Iraq War than it becomes easier for the public to ignore and not care about. For me it showed the gravity of things as this how far it has come. It brings it home the enormity of the situation, seeing how life had been senselessly taken. Sure, Barkha Dutt's insensitivity at times was appalling, but it is not like India has someone like Peter Jennings in terms of someone, who is able to be that reassuring commentator in times like these. Shekhar Gupta from the Indian Express is a person I tend to always agree with, and I think it is important to be mindful of the events over those 60 hours and not forget. India has every right to be angry with its political leaders I do agree with that, and I am glad to see some resignations. Yes, I know their political system is corrupt, but it leads me to wanting a parliamentary system of government sometimes. At least this allows for more accountability. Here, we just clench our teeth and take the indignities for years. Sorry, for the incoherence in my ranting, but I had alot to get off my chest there.

Unknown said...

The last Russian guy who visited India that I talked to sat me down and asked me why people in India went through their daily lives without any hope or desire to do anything. Of course, he had lived in the US long enough to have developed a purpose in life.

fish, thanks for sharing that with us. Your perspective is wonderful in the sense that you have lingering ties with Pakistan as well to consider. I'm afraid that terrorism has now become a bit of a cultural thing among people who grow up with it. Which is why the fact that it seems to engulf Islam makes it extremely troublesome. Its hard to fight it knowing it is now primarily attached to a religion when it shouldn't be.

Unknown said...

Now...should I try to be funny again in the next post or would it be completely insensitive?

musical said...

"Of course, he had lived in the US long enough to have developed a purpose in life."


Regarding whether you should share something humorous with us, i am sure drifters (will) know that you are not being insensitive, if you'll do a humorous post next. Though i do understand where this consternation comes from.

Joules said...

Also the ignorance runs both ways - once when I told a friends dad in Jaipur that I lived in Texas, he said that is a dangerous place and the president was assasinated in Dallas. I had to remind him that two indian prime ministers have been assasinated since then.

I am ready to move on to the happy stuff. Humor is a good way to keep one sane.

justanotherfishinthesea said...

Please keep up the humor. That is what I love about this place. It is not in bad taste at all. Sometimes I take myself a little too seriously.:) In the interest of keeping things a bit lighter, here is Elizabeth Hasselbeck's take on Deepak Chopra's commentary on CNN. She is going off the deep end and actually sounds saner than she usually does. Bless her crazy scatterbrained soul. Note, I have heard what Chopra said was controversial there and was linking Obama's victory to the bombings in Mumbai. Actually, I should go and look for a clip of that. It would be good to see to just exclaim WTF.

Anonymous said...

Bring back the funny Aspi, we need it especially at a time like this!!

Something Himesh-related would be GOLD!!

Anonymous said...

Whats with these russian guys! three years ago a russian-american techie from our team was in mumbai for a week and all he did was take around 200 pics of the backs of every kind of vehicle with 'Horn OK Please' printed on it. By the time he came back he was raving about the most efficient way in which standards are implemented in India - every light commercial vehicle uses the same phrase :)

musical said...

Joules, that was funny! Someone back home told me the same quite a while ago,when i moved to NYC :-D. That, when NYC was the only place where i could walk back home alone after midnight ;).

Unknown said...

meena, this reminds me: I was so thrilled to hear "OK TATA DONE" by Mika from the Dil Kabaddi soundtrack. All of that CD is great BTW. Too bad I can't get a hold of Sachin Gupta to talk about it otherwise it would have been fun.

Anyone interested can listen to it here:

Unknown said...

This whole Texas business - to be fair - I get from other parts of the US as well.

I've lived in Texas for over 5 years. Whenever I mention that to anyone around here in the Midwest, I get a bit of an eye roll and some mutterings about how one could just never live in that place with guns and trigger happy cowboys. And then off they go to kill a moose or something.

musical said...

Agree much, Aspi! Several friends from Texas share that experience.

justanotherfishinthesea said...

Texas is such a diverse place. Sure there are some crazy cults there in those backwoods but hello Houston, one of the biggest desi populations in the country. I heart Austin so much, probably one of the coolest places I have ever been to. Actually, that trip was probably one of the best trips I have ever had, got to see Damien Rice in concert for the first time.
Making assumptions based on one thing you hear in a news story is pretty bad. Here is an example one can use to make that case for Indiana. Former coach of the Indiana Hoosiers, the infamous Bobby Knight, had a history of I don't know mock whipping a black player as well as being sued after choking a man, who confronted him about a racist remark he made in a restaurant. The latter incident was in freaking 1999. Yeah, and he continued coaching for a few years afterwards. He got championships so the mostly hippy-loving, liberal oasis that is Bloomington keeps him. Does one bad incident really tarnish that image of Bloomington for anyone? No one brings that up and says look at that racist state Indiana. And I would be offended if they did too. So the South does take an undue amount of heat there.
Oh and don't get me started on hunting. I will be honest and say that I respect a person more if they do it and actually eat it rather than hang up the head like a trophy. Someone in my office actually brought in some venison stew for an office party. Yes, he shot it himself. A lovely gesture that I *so* appreciated. Chips and dip never ever looked so good.

Anonymous said...

Mukala Muqabla Laila
Oh ho Laila

Anonymous said...

Austin, Texas is very blue.

So is Maverick, Texas. The Maverick family were peeved at McCain and Palin for calling themselves Mavericks.

Texas is a pretty diverse place. I think everyone just thinks of it as the South and a red state. And thinks of Bush, guns, etc etc. And Bush probably has a lot to do with Texas' reputation. With his cowboy persona, though the guy went to the finest New England schools.

When it's not the reddest state. There are a lot of very blue, and leaning blue counties/cities in the state. There are states way more red than Texas.

The same goes for blue states as well. People would make their judgment on a state being consistently blue, even though it may be diverse as well with pockets and counties of Red. New York--while bluer than Texas is red--also has its share of hunters as well.

Maverick steadfastly refused to brand his cattle. As a result, the word maverick entered the English lexicon, meaning both an unbranded range animal as well as a slang term for someone who exhibits a streak of stubborn independence.[75]

Samuel Augustus Maverick (July 23, 1803–September 2, 1870) was a Texas lawyer, politician, land baron and signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence. His name is the source of the term "maverick", first cited in 1867, which means independent minded. Maverick was considered independent minded by his fellow ranchers because he refused to brand his cattle.[1] In fact, Maverick's failure to brand his cattle had little to do with independent mindedness, but reflected his lack of interest in ranchin

Maverick's stated reason for not branding his cattle was that he didn't want to inflict pain on them.[75] Other ranchers, however, suspected his true motivation was that it allowed him to collect any unbranded cattle and claim them as his own.[75]

Unknown said...

Lin, thanks for the history (and expanding my horizon). So Maverick was a communist!? Who knew - definitely not Palin.

I got my first lesson on how to handle guns (followed by a trip to the shooting range) in Austin, Tx. But the lesson was delivered by a friend who grew up in Wisconsin.

Anonymous said...

Dude, check this out..