As the media goes into an overdrive on the first anniversary of last November’s Mumbai terror attack, we should remember that before 26/11, there was 12/3. Way back in 1993, there were no 24-hour news channels to capture every moment of the blasts that shook Mumbai. An Anurag Kashyap made Black Friday, but there is limited graphic representation of what happened 16 years ago. The truth is, no mention of 26/11 is complete without 12/3 because that is where the cycle of terror began.
If the 26/11 attacks left us angry, the 1993 blasts had stunned us. We hadn’t heard of RDX, Dawood Ibrahim was just another underworld don who only months earlier had been spotted waving the tricolour in Sharjah, and the ISI was seen as a Pakistani army agency engaging in mischief in Kashmir, and not beyond. The Mumbai blasts, in a sense, robbed us of our innocence in dealing with the merchants of terror.
Two hundred and fifty-seven dead, more than 700 injured: Mumbai ’93 was not just statistically much worse than any single terror attack India has endured, it was also the first. Worse, the blasts forced us to confront an ugly reality: the enemy is not just across the border, but also lies within. The blasts were part of a cycle of violence that had shaken the nation in those traumatic months of 1992-93, a cycle of rioting and revenge that pitted neighbours and communities against each other.
It would be fair to suggest that Mumbai 1993 would not have happened if the Babri Masjid had not been demolished in December 1992, if the demolition had not been followed by street violence and if the December riots had not been followed by equally gruesome rioting in Mumbai in January of 1993. Those three months of mayhem left Mumbai scarred and divided.
Sixteen years later, the scars haven’t fully healed, the divisions haven’t melted away. Which is why it is not possible to explain November 2008 without turning the clock back to March 1993.
In 1993, the local involvement in the blasts was stark: the footsoldiers were not just members of the ‘D’ gang, they included the likes of a chartered accountant like Yakub Memon and film video producers like Samir Hingora and Hanif Kadawala. What united them was their religious identity, and their perceived sense of anger and injustice in the aftermath of the riots.
By 2008, the rules of the game had changed. Where Dawood had once provided his local network, now the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba had the capacity to plot the terror attack from long distance. But while it is clear that the core of the conspiracy was planned, financed and executed by Pakistan-based terror groups, it is difficult to accept that there was no local involvement. Kasab may have been indoctrinated in Pakistan’s Punjab province, but what of the Indian Kasabs whose sense of grievance is making them potential terror recruits?
But while the scope and sophistication of the terror organisations may have increased in the last 16 years, the response of the state and law enforcement machinery hasn’t matched the new realities. In 1993, the ‘D’ gang landed the RDX along the Konkan coast. In 2008, Kasab and his gang members could land in the heart of south Mumbai. If 1993 exposed a corrupt customs force, this time the coast guard was found to be the weak link. In 1993, the Union home minister was S.B. Chavan who had sleepwalked through the Babri demolition. In 2008, home minister Shivraj Patil kept the National Security Guards waiting for hours till he had got his wardrobe right. In 1993, the Mumbai police was struggling with
political interference and patronage of the underworld. In 2008, the police was fractious and demoralised. Sixteen years after 1993, the conspiracy charges are still being fought in court. A year after 26/11, the trial is still being heard in a
It should also be no surprise that Mumbai has been more vulnerable than any other Indian metropolis to urban terrorism.
More than a dozen terror strikes between 1993 and 2008 is proof that Mumbai sits on a tinderbox. It’s no use blaming civil society and its apparent disconnect with the State for this. Mumbai’s crisis has to do with an effete and bankrupt political class, one that has been corrupted by the city’s riches. When transfers and appointments of police officers, for example, are made on the basis of cash, not merit, then the system becomes too feeble to take on well trained and highly-motivated terrorists. When political leaders are bankrolled by the underworld, then these leaders lose the moral authority to be able to enforce law and order. Which is why for all the commendable efforts made by the union home minister to give a sense of purpose to the country’s security apparatus in the last year, the lurking fear remains: 26/11 will not be the last time terrorists strike at us.
Post-script: there is one other uncanny similarity between 1993 and 2008. Then, the Shiv Sena was on the streets, claiming to defend the Hindu majority. Now, the rival Senas are once again on the rampage, this time for Marathi asmita. A society that legitimises violence from within will always be prone to violence from outside.
The views expressed by the author are personal