Steel amid adversity: Tata after Mumbai

December 22, 2008

Joe Leahy reports from Mumbai in Financial Times:

ratan_tata

Ratan Tata was at home in south Mumbai late on November 26 when the call came. On the line was a frantic R.K. Krishna Kumar, head of the Tata group unit that owns the city’s luxury Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel.

The unthinkable had happened, Mr Kumar told the Tata chairman. Terrorists had taken over the Taj, the 105-year-old wedding cake-like structure on Mumbai’s waterfront that was built by Mr Tata’s great-grandfather and is the pride of India’s largest private sector group. Scores had been killed. The building was on fire.

Unable to leave his apartment that evening because of the chaos on the streets, Mr Tata made it to the group’s stately south Mumbai headquarters, Bombay House, the following day. As the country’s politicians engaged in a blame game, Mr Tata was one of the few public figures who seemed to strike the right tone on the attacks. He bluntly criticised the state’s lack of preparedness while expressing grief for those killed.

“This is a very, very unfortunate situation which none of us are going to forget. My message really is that the government and state authorities should also not forget,” he told journalists on the steps of Bombay House.

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The confessions of Mumbai terrorist

December 14, 2008

As Ajmal Ameer Kasab, the only terrorist caught alive for the attack, gives details of his indoctrination and training, Sagnik Chowdhury pieces together the terror plot against Mumbai. From the Sunday Express:

Reuters

Ajmal Amir Kasab, the face of the Mumbai attacks. Photo: Reuters

In 2005, however, Kasab had a fight with his parents and walked out of his home, taking to robbery and dacoity to earn money. Kasab’s recruitment into the terror fold began in mid-2006 when he wanted to buy a firearm and was asked to contact an LeT operative in Rawalpindi. It was through this contact that he was introduced to top leaders in the terror outfit and radicalised through sustained indoctrination by Zaqi-ur-Rehman Lakhvi. Kasab has told interrogators that the ten terrorists were handpicked from a larger group and that they attended training camps at Mansera, Muridke, Muzaffarabad and a location near Karachi. Top LeT operatives, identified as Abu Hamza-said to be involved in the December 2005 attack on the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore-and Kahafa were in charge of their training.

“Kahafa was a sort of course co-ordinator and was constantly shepherding the group. Hamza was involved during the advanced training in firearms and explosives,” says Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Rakesh Maria, the officer in charge of the investigations.

LeT commander Hafiz Saeed too visited the group during their training. According to the Crime Branch, several of the handlers at the different training camps were names that had been dropped by arrested operatives of the Indian Mujahideen when grilled about their training in Pakistan.

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Amitav Ghosh on the attack on Mumbai and the metaphor of ‘9/11’

November 30, 2008

From the Hindustan Times:

logoSince the start of the terrorist invasion of Mumbai on November 26, the metaphor of the World Trade Center attacks has been repeatedly invoked. In India and elsewhere commentators have taken to saying, over and again, ‘This is India’s 9/11.’ There can be no doubt that there are certain clear analogies between the two attacks. In both cases the terrorists were clearly at great pains to single out urban landmarks, especially those that serve as points of reference in this increasingly interconnected world.

There are similarities too, in the unexpectedness of the attacks, the meticulousness of their planning, their shock value and the utter unpreparedness of the security services. But this is where the similarities end. Not only were the casualties far greater on September 11, 2001, but the shock of the attack was also greatly magnified by the fact that it had no real precedent in America’s historical experience.

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The future of terrorism

Pramit Pal Chaudhuri in Hindustan Times:

They may call the next several years the “Era of Mumbai Terror.” An increasing number of counterterrorism specialists say the nature of the attack is clearly different from the South Asian norm and possibly even by any global measure. And because it is was so successful – a score of armed men holding an entire country to ransom for three days – it may become a model for the next wave of jihadi fighters.

Colonel Jonathan Fighel of Israel’s International Institute for Counter-Terrorism is among those who has pointed out that the Mumbai attacks are “unusual not only for India, but also on the international scale.” The subcontinental norm has been a “series of explosions undertaken simultaneously by radical Islamic organizations aiming to kill” masses of people. This was an “all-out offensive, with clear military hallmarks.”

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Taj Mahal hotel owner: We had warning

November 30, 2008

Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata in interview with CNN‘s Fareed Zakaria:

Ratan Tata

Ratan Tata

It’s ironic that we did have such a warning, and we did have some measures,” Tata said, without elaborating on the warning or when security measures were enacted. “People couldn’t park their cars in the portico, where you had to go through a metal detector.”

However, Tata said the attackers did not enter through the entrance that has a metal detector. Instead, they came in a back entrance, he said.

“They knew what they were doing, and they did not go through the front. All of our arrangements are in the front,” he said.

“They planned everything,” he said of the attackers. “I believe the first thing they did, they shot a sniffer dog and his handler. They went through the kitchen.”

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Mumbai: The city I love

November 29, 2008

The novelist Amit Chaudhuri finds it impossible to think about his childhood home without a quickening of excitement and pleasure. But this week’s terror attacks have highlighted the other side of Mumbai – a society riven by poverty and despair. From the Guardian:

David Levene

Children playing in the rubbish of a shanty town at Nariman Point, just down the beach from the city

My parents moved to Bombay from Calcutta in 1965, when I was an infant – they stayed at the Taj for two weeks while the company found them a flat. This was the beginning of Calcutta’s decline, companies and professionals fleeing labour trouble, and relocating at this optimistic seaside metropolis in western India. It was a charmed life – from at least two of the flats we lived in when my father was finance director and then chief executive of Britannia Biscuits, flats in Malabar Hill and Cuffe Parade, the city’s two richest localities, you could see a skyline that, with its lissom, tall buildings (Bombay is the only Indian city to have had an obsessive romance with the vertical, the skyscraper), approximated Manhattan in some ways; in its sunniness, its palm trees, its disguised but obvious carnality, it echoed what we knew of California from films; and the gothic buildings were remnants of the old history that had first brought together these seven fishing islands.

From different windows and balconies in those two flats, at different points of my life until 1982, when my father retired, the dome of the Taj (the “old” Taj, as it came to be known after the arrival of its neighbour, the Taj Intercontinental) was visible, grey, as seemingly and deceptively stationary as a low cloud. Like Calcutta, and unlike Delhi, with its Moghul and Sultanate lineage, Bombay had no really great historical or religious monuments; its landmarks, in keeping with the fact that it was the progeny of an almost innocent-seeming colonial modernity, were secular ones – hotels; cinema halls, such as the Eros, the Regal, the Metro; grand, untidy railway stations such as the Victoria Terminus. To call the Taj the “old” Taj was to deliberately indulge in a flagrant misnomer, and a reminder of Bombay’s willingness to rewrite history in terms of the urban, the kitschy, the comic: it was as if the “real” Taj Mahal in Agra had never existed except in those most incredible of objects – school textbooks.

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Without comment…

November 29, 2008

The paragraph below is from a story in Mumbai Mirror on Friday, 28 November, when terrorists were holding hostages in the Taj Mahal hotel, the Trident hotel and Nariman House. We do not have independent confirmation of the story.

Sources said though the plane carrying NSG Commandos was ready by midnight, it could not take off due to the delayed arrival of a VIP, who wanted to accompany them to Mumbai, at the Delhi airport. Worse, the Commandos had to wait for a vehicle at the Mumbai airport until morning.


In hotel attack, terrorists target India’s growing global class

November 28, 2008

Anand Giridharadas in International Herald Tribune:

On an evening not long ago at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel in Mumbai, a Bollywood star named Preity Zinta rushed up the stairs and into Wasabi, a Japanese restaurant. She joined long-waiting friends at their table and apologized for being late.

But before long, she had risen again. She had seen at a nearby table Adi and Parmeshwar Godrej, billionaires, socialites and fellow jet-setters. A good amount of air-kissing ensued. Then she was introduced to Imran Khan, the Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician, who just happened to be in town.

Before long, a bottle of imported red wine arrived and was poured into a silver-tipped glass decanter, as platters of miso-encrusted sea bass and rock-shrimp tempura floated through the restaurant on upraised hands.

When violent attackers besieged the Taj, as it is universally known, and embarked on a murderous rampage Wednesday night, they targeted one of the city’s best known landmarks.

But they also went after something larger: a hulking, physical embodiment of India’s deepening involvement with the world.

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Dispatch from an anxious Mumbai

November 28, 2008

Naresh Fernandes, editor of ‘Time Out Mumbai,’ in The New Republic:

Employees and guests use curtains to escape the Taj Mahal hotel. AFP

Employees and guests use curtains to escape the Taj Mahal hotel. AFP

As columns of smoke rose from the Italianate dome of the Taj Mahal hotel in downtown Mumbai on Wednesday night, I came upon a woman standing a short distance away from the building, waiting for her friends trapped inside. She’d just ordered a steak when she heard gunfire as terrorists stormed through the establishment. The woman, who had been rescued through a window by the fire brigade after hours of hiding under a table, said that her name was Dalbir Bains. I recognised it from the society pages of the newspapers. She’s the owner of a fancy lingerie store in the beachside neighbourhood of Juhu, and, amidst the chatter of gunfire, I found myself involved in a brief discussion about edible underwear.

Everything that evening had been surreal. At 10:15pm, shortly before the attack, I’d been handed a visiting card that read, “George W Bush, Former President, The United States of America (currently seeking employment).” Sipping my glass of merlot, I shook hands with the man who had given it to me. He wore a dark suit and a giant rubber Dubya mask. I was at the premiere of “The President Is Coming”, a mockumentary about six young Indians taking part in a competition that offered the winner an unforgettable prize: the opportunity to shake Bush’s hand on his imminent visit to the subcontinent.

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