By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)
MUMBAI/NEW DELHI â€“ Despite serial blasts in Mumbai (Maharashtra) having sent shock waves across the country, with around 200 persons killed and 700 injured, it did not take long for Bollywood to try and return to normal.
On Tuesday, July 11, as commuters were heading home from their work places, nearly simultaneous blasts took place at suburban trains at Mahim, Khar, Santa Cruz, Bandra, Jogeshwari, Borivali and Bhayender. Blood, mutilated body parts, mangled compartments and panic stricken and injured commuters were everywhere, scattered in pandemonium. Soon, the country and its capital city were put on red alert, in fear of similar attacks there.
Security was tightened at all metro airports. Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh held an emergency meeting of his cabinet to take stock of the situation. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held an emergency meeting at his residence with Home Minister Shivraj Patil and others.
The same day, Srinagar (Jammu and Kashmir) was hit by series of grenade attacks, killing eight people and injuring at least 30. Despite the nature of Mumbai and Srinagar attacks being totally different, the close timing of the two attacks prompted Indian authorities to consider a link between them.
If the responsible parties had intended to spread social tension, their efforts failed instantly. Before political authorities and/or police issued any instructions or rushed to the spot, the survivors and people living nearby were at the job helping victims with water, food items and in rushing them to hospitals. Social differences â€“ religious, caste, class and others–did not prevent Mumbaikars in displaying their community consciousness during those crucial moments. These differences did not even figure in peopleâ€™s minds, when blasts hit the trains they were traveling by. As expressed by Prashant Singh: â€œI was in the second class compartment and the explosion happened in the first class exactly at 6 24 PM (IST). Our compartment was filled with thick black smoke. When it cleared, I saw the dead. There were people lying on the tracks with no clothes, there were dismembered bodies–extremely gruesome… Like others, I also jumped off the train before it came to a halt. Though there was chaos all around, I saw great goodness in people helping each other. I also helpedâ€¦ The next morning I took train to work again. I have no choice, I have to go to work everyday.â€
Mohammed Tanveer got off his train just before one of its carriages exploded. He fell unconscious with his legs badly injured. â€œWhen I came to, people around me were helping me. Some put me in an auto rickshaw and took me to a close by hospital, which was closed. They took me to another hospital. I am grateful to God for not being too hurt. There were others far more severely injured than me.â€ Just as social differences mattered little as Singh tried helping others, those who reached out to help Tanveer cared little about his religious identity.
Asserting that Indians must remain â€œunitedâ€ and â€œcondemnâ€ terroristsâ€™ actions in Mumbai and Kashmir, silent processions and demonstrations were held across the nation over the next few days. These included Bollywood starsâ€™ protest against blasts, political activistsâ€™ silent processions, and other activities. Several groups, including the All India Shia-Sunni Front and Bharatiya Jan Shakti, blamed Pakistan for the blasts during their demonstrations.
Displaying Indiaâ€™s pluralism, Muslim clerics across the nation strongly condemned the Mumbai blasts. In Mumbai, representatives of Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind, the Ulema Council, the Milli Council, Jamaat-e-Islami, the All India Sunni Jamiat-ul-Ulema, the All India Sunni Tablighi Jamaat, the All India Qazi Board, the Bombay Aman Committee and others condemned the blasts as â€œbarbaricâ€, â€œinhumanâ€ and â€œcowardly.â€
The spontaneous response of Indian Muslims bears importance as extremist Muslim organizations, including the banned SIMI (Students Islamic Movement of India) and Pakistan-based LeT (Lashkar-e-Toiba) were suspected from the first to have been behind the blasts.
On Saturday (July 15), through an e-mail send to an Indian news channel, the little known Lashkar-e-Qahar claimed responsibility for the blasts. According to the e-mail, 16 Qahhar activists had carried out the Mumbai attacks and would carry out more attacks if the Indian government does not stop the â€œexploitation of Kashmiri people.â€ LeQ also claimed association with LeT.
Describing the blasts in Srinagar and Mumbai as â€œinhuman,â€ President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam appealed to people to remain calm and to assist the administration in providing relief to the injured. Exactly a week later (July 18), in Mumbai, Kalam led the city in observing silence for two minutes as a mark of respect for victims of the serial blasts.
During its meeting (July 13), the union cabinet strongly condemned the attacks in Mumbai and Srinagar and observed two minutes of silence in memory of the loss of life. Reiterating the governmentâ€™s â€œstrong commitment to combat terrorism,â€ a resolution passed by the cabinet said: â€œNothing will deter us from our firm policy to fight this menace till it is wiped out.â€
The Prime Minister made a special national address on television (July 12) asserting: â€œLet me say, no one can make India kneel. No one can come in the path of our progress. The wheels of our economy will move on. India will continue to walk tall, and with confidence.â€ â€œWe will win this war against terror. Nothing will break our resolve,â€ he said.
While in Mumbai (July 14), where he also visited several victims in hospitals, Singh extended a salute to the cityâ€™s spirit. â€œMumbai has shown its resolve not to be cowed down by these incidents,â€ he said. Asserting the need to come up with a â€œcredible strategyâ€ against terrorists, Singh said: â€œBut the time has come for us to crack down and destroy all these anti-national elements. We will leave no stone unturned, I reiterate, no stone unturned, in ensuring that terrorist elements in India are neutralized and smashed.â€
Railway Minister Lalu Prasad announced Rs 5,00, 000 as compensation to the next of kin of those killed in the Mumbai blasts, Rs 50,000 for those grievously injured and Rs 1,000 for people with simple injuries, an official statement said.
While Indians have risen as a united nation, the suspected-of role of Pakistan-based militant organizations has to a degree stalled the ongoing Indo-Pak peace process. Indo-Pak foreign secretary-level talks, earlier scheduled for July 20-21, were called off. On this, Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran said: â€œThere is no conducive environment for Pak-India talks at the moment.â€ Talks have been deferred for now, as Saran specified: â€œWe have not said the (Indo-Pak talks) process is off.â€ The visit of a two-member delegation of legislators to Pakistan to attend a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association seminar (from July 17) was also cancelled following an advice from the Indian ministry of external affairs, sources said.
Left bloc parties asserted that the ongoing Indo-Pak â€œpeaceâ€ process should not be stalled. â€œWe do not agree that composite dialogue and the peace process with Pakistan should be stopped. Rather it should be continued, as the terror strike attempted to derail these talks, besides disturbing communal harmony in the country. Terrorists should not be allowed to have their way,â€ D. Raja and Gurudas Dasgupta (Communist Party of India) said. Blaming the Home Ministry for having committed a severe lapse in failing to prevent the Mumbai blasts, Dasgupta said: â€œThere are seven-eight agencies catering to intelligence gathering, including the IB (Intelligence Bureau) and RAW (Research and Analysis Wing). There is multiplication of agencies, but all of them failed to take note of the meticulous manner in which the attack was carried out.â€
Describing the saffron brigade â€“ Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Bharatiya Janata Party- as â€œominousâ€ for Indiaâ€™s future, Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury said in his party magazine (Peopleâ€™s Democracy): â€œThe RSS-BJP, as is its wont, is seeking to reap political benefit from this national tragedy.â€ Yechury accused them of using the Mumbai blasts as a window of opportunity for their â€œpolitics of communal polarizationâ€ which is â€œominous for Indiaâ€™s future.â€
On its part, hoping to present itself as the savior of Hindus in Mumbai and revive Hindutva phase II, Sangh Parivar selected Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as its anti-terror mascot. BJP leader L.K. Advani blamed the Congress-led United Progressive Allianceâ€™s decision to repeal Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) for the Mumbai blasts. When questioned later on Advaniâ€™s demand for POTAâ€™s revival, Prime Minister Singh virtually ruled out this option.
Leaders from across the world condemned the blasts in Mumbai and Srinagar. Expressing that he was â€œappalled by the brutal and callous bombings,â€ UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said that these incidents â€œincrease the urgency of coordinated action by all countries to defeat terrorism in all forms and manifestations, committed by whomever, whenever, wherever and for whatever purpose.â€
President Bush spoke to Prime Minister Singh by telephone to convey the USâ€™s support of India in the fight against terrorism.
In Washington, Bush said in a statement: â€œThe United States stands with the people and the government of India and condemns in the strongest terms these atrocities, which were committed against innocent people as they went about their daily lives.â€
â€œSuch acts only strengthen the resolve of the international community to stand united against terrorism and to declare unequivocally that there is no justification for the vicious murder of innocent people.â€
Describing terrorism as an â€œunscrupulous and monstrous crimeâ€ that can never be justified, Russian President Vladimir Putin said: â€œThe terrorists who are guilty of this cruel act must be severely punished.â€ European Unionâ€™s Javier Solana said: â€œI condemn in the strongest possible terms these despicable acts of terrorism, which have caused death and injuries to scores of innocent people.â€
Denouncing the explosions, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said: â€œWe stand united with India, as the worldâ€™s largest democracy, through our shared values and our shared determination to defeat terrorism in all its forms.â€
In New Delhi, condemning the terrorist acts, the Arab League and heads of missions of Arab states called for â€œcoordinated actions by the international communityâ€ to combat terrorism.
Condemning the incident, Pakistan also offered India help with its investigations. During a television address, President Pervez Musharraf said: â€œWhosoever has done this cannot be pardoned at all. So we condole with the Indian government and I assure Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the Pakistan government and I myself are with him in any investigation that he wants to carry out.â€
Within less than a week, more than 1,000 people were questioned and clues gathered on the Mumbai blasts. However, no official announcement was made on whether the actual guilty party had been traced and/or caught. On this, Mumbai Police Chief Anami Roy said: â€œWe are aware of the enormity of the situation. That is precisely why we will take time to give any conclusions.â€