United We Stand as Mumbai is burning

Nero was fiddling when Rome was burning. Nero’s high living alienated citizens and senators alike, and he was forced to commit suicide. Will any Indian leader (unlike in Italy & Japan) commit suicide. Remember Minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka-san who hanged himself last year. In India farmers commit suicide, not politicians.cialis These days they don’t even vacate their seats of power.

I am considerably relieved to be back home in Delhi and be with my family. I was in Mumbai on the 26/11 and was staying at the Taj, luckily at the Taj Lands End Hotel in Bandra, a Taj property.

Attending the Ernst & Young’s spectacular 10th Entrepreneur of The Year Awards ceremony at the lawns of the Taj Lands and chewing the cud with a bit of nostalgia, little did I or for that matter anyone of us at the event know that the Taj Mahal Hotel & the Trident Oberoi Hotels were under a terrorist attack. And other vulnerable spots were also simultaneously targeted and assaulted.

There was not a clue to anyone there that a terrible tragedy was unfolding in the South of Mumbai and that Mr. Oberoi’s marquee hotel was seized by the terrorists. The Taj Lands End staff also did not know that their colleagues were being gunned down by ruthless criminals. The reality of situation unfolded when we went to our rooms and watched the 9/11 of India on the TV. That night I did not sleep and was constantly switching my attention from the television to the glass window overlooking the sea to look for any boat that was getting closer to this hotel

Today morning (27th) as I checked out of the hotel, I met my friend Riz Khan (former BBC and CNN journalist)who was moving into ground zero to report for Al Jazeera English. He was the anchor for the previous night’s event I spoke to my friend Govind Raj Ethiraj (now Editor in Chief UTVi) (who was in ground zero) to confirm that he is safe. I then understood why he could not turn up for this morning’s breakfast with me. I managed to reach the airport to take a Kingfisher flight that left for Delhi on time. I am one of the lucky ones who did not stay or dine at either the Taj or the Oberoi that night. As they uncover the identity of the ones who did not make it, I hope and pray that their kith and kin have the strength to bear the loss.

As if the financial tragedy through which we are scraping through is not enough, this terrorist attack that brought our Army, Navy, Police & the National Security Guard (a federal contingency force) to the heart of Mumbai,to the very nerve centre of our financial capital, to the central business district of Mumbai is a greater tragedy. This is warfare of a different kind altogether. It is a matter of grave concern that brave police officers – Hemant Karkare, Ashok Kamte and Vijay Salaskar were killed while performing their duties. We also watched with pride the heroic acts of rescue, care, sense of duty, responsibility and restraint by the professional men of our Police, Army, Navy & the NSG. I salute them and commend all those young journalists who risked their lives to report live on the unfolding events so that we all could see what was really going on. But there is a lurking fear in me that perhaps we are not yet fully equipped to deal with this kind of urban warfare. Some experts tell me that the technology, the techniques & the tactics used to deal with these kinds of attacks were perhaps missing in this operation.

We are a nation that is reactive. We haven’t learnt any lessons from the series of attacks in Mumbai. When the Parliament was attacked, the political leaders united to fortify their own security. Did the government ( whichever party it may be) and their chosen people who are entrusted with the duty and responsibility to run our intelligence deliver ? Should old retired men like Mr. M.K.Narayanan be the National Security Advisor ? What is the job description for this position? Just take a look at the range of issues he has covered in a recent interview with The Straits Times India Bureau Chief. It must worry you as much as it does worry me that he is an expert on both internal & external security.

It is once again a stronger proof that we have incompetent and irresponsible people who are entrusted with the job of running our country. To add insult to injury, we have some political leaders behaving in an ugly and reprehensible manner. These men made an ass of themselves in front of millions of people all over the world.

While the blame game will go around and politicians will get all the flak, it is also very sad that highly respected corporate houses that run huge hotels do not have the rudimentary risk management systems in place. How could these criminals get into their premises with so much ammunition? These corporate leaders may have a lot to explain as to how they allowed their weak internal security systems to jeopardise the lives of innocent people and hold the whole nation to ransom. When guests pay $300 upwards for a room night and the restaurants charge ten times the price for food, they also buy safety and security. I will not be surprised if these hotels are legally made accountable for the serious lapses and be even sued for damages by customers or their relatives.

4 thoughts on “United We Stand as Mumbai is burning

  1. Quite right VVR … yet, your country is not Robinsion Crusoe here … many other regimes including my own here in Australia, would have struggled with such a large and prejudicial terrorist attack on hotels, where large numbers of innocent customers are held.

    I hate to think what mught have happened had they chosen The Imperial ! If I ever return, I think it would be safer at the Noida Radisson or a non-westerner hotel out of town.

    What was needed was a faster, crack-response team, with a rehearsed process … basically no stuffing about, crash through and get the bad guys dead as fast as you can. None of this messing about thinking on how well the gold braid looks on television, or touring the injured in hospital like Manmohan Singh. As for the Pakistanis – don’t make me laugh.

    As for the Hotels themselves, I dunno, it is very difficult. One of the issues in India is that security as a business or career is not paid well enough. Same can be said for the police, which is one of the reasons why there is so much corruption. Peanuts and monkeys.

    Mind you, our guards in the banks look like they might fall over if you waived a wet lettuce leaf at them, so we are no better methinks.

  2. Dear VVR,

    It is really touching for any one who has or had been in Mumbai. I also could not sleep for the last three days, sitting glued to the TV, wanting to be updated on our countrymen’s safety. Being away from India, the feeling is more when the distance is more. At the end, when the operation was confirmed to be over, feeling a kind of relieved.

    You are right when you said reactive approach of the police. In the past, the Mumbai police have all been engaged only after a blast had occurred. They know how to divert the traffic, how to keep the people from going too close, how to compile evidence (half of which, no one reads!), all after a situation has happened. They don’t know how to handle a situation when it occurs. The body language was very evident. They are all reactive and not proactive.

    For you and me and many others, it is easy to point a finger. Little do we realize that when we point a finger at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at us! What have we done to change the system? What have we done to bring a change in the politicians? What have we done when we see a policeman openly taking a bribe?

    As Ron Kaufman said in his famous lectures:
    “Everyone comes out with a BLAME (as if he is right and someone else is not) SHAME (self realization that I could have done something about the situation) and JUSTIFICATION (trying to find out a reason for the situation that it was someone else or something else).” He goes on to say “rise above the line of Blame Shame and Justification and TAKE PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY”

    In a democracy like ours, we have chosen people to do the governance at various levels. It is these people who need to take the Personal Responsibility. Our responsibility is to ensure that these people who are governing do what they are supposed to do. We cannot now talk of their competency or their self motivation to do their jobs. We cannot hire and fire these people on top of the power chain. A movement has to start to educate the common man, to make him responsible for choosing the correct person, to make him aware that there is a way to voice your concerns. It could be through the senators, councilors, MPs, MLAs. Only thing is that the concerns should be voiced.

    As citizen of India, what have we done? I have not done anything much other than putting my vote for the “better of the lot – at that point of time!” and paying the tax. You have done a lot more; by bringing up these issues to public notice. I want to join you in your persistent endeavor to voice concerns impacting or affecting the nation as a whole. More people should start voicing their concerns. As like every system, to mature, the political system has to go through multiple cycles of PDCA. There should be an ‘andholan’ to make every citizen aware of the reality.

  3. It is a disaster that the Government of India has decided to keep this old man as the National Security Advisor, inspite of several security lapses that has killed hundreds of innocent people. Mr. Narayanan, if you have any honor left in you, please step down and own responsibility as a mark of respect for the scores of innocent people who were exposed to lurking danger which you were supposed to uncover. Even the Gods will not pardon you for failing in your duty for holding onto a job where you have miserably failed.

  4. Well said! It’s sad that it takes an attack on the upper classes for some heads to roll, but better late than never, irrespective of the reason. I think your last point is very interesting – it’s shocking that Ratan Tata admits to receiving warnings about attacks on the Taj, and yet security was relaxed just a few days before 26/11.

    I hope you don’t mind, but I placed a link to this article on my blog.

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