Mumbai Attacks: Much Too Familiar

It's upsetting to see just how familiar we Mumbaikars are to the situation we are in right now. Serial blasts in India's financial capital at the evening rush hour. We all know exactly what will follow.

No one is surprised when they can't get through to their loved ones in Mumbai or when they are asked to stay in office until the matter cools down. We know that it's common practice for phones to get jammed, for streets to be blocked off, and for restaurants around office areas to eventually run out of food for dinner.

Even the authorities on television sound ashamed. "Yes, it has happened before," "It's unfortunate that we are here again;" are some of the statements you'll hear on the radio or TV. Milind Deora a Member of Parliament from the South Mumbai constituency said "My message to the people of Mumbai is... what I said the last time this happened..." His message was the right one: be calm, don't promote any communal disharmony and don't buy into any rumors, etc but he recognizes the frustration and anger faced by the people who voted him in.

Mumbai's police commissioner said, "We will bring the guilty to book -- make no mistake about it."

It's a comment that brings cynical and sarcastic responses.

We are still not sure whether it's Mohammed Ajmal Kasab's, the lone surviving gunman from the 26/11 attacks, 24th birthday. The Indian Express and The Times of India and the BBC at first, reported it as his birthday while CNN-IBN reports his birthday to be in September. BBC then, a few hours later changed their report on their website to read the following:

According to some reports, the blasts came on the birthday of Mohammad Ajmal Amir Qasab, the sole surviving gunman from the 2008 attacks. But BBC correspondents say court records show his birthday to be in September.

Given that we took three months to get his name right and that there are still doubts as to where he lives, his birthdate will certainly be up for debate. So whether it is his birthday or not, whether he lied in court records or not, it's difficult to believe that these dates are a coincidence. And even if they are, one can't help but ask that why, in the process of bringing him to justice, are we only punishing ourselves.

What are we trying to prove? That despite knowing of the dastardly acts committed by Kasab, we are an extremely respectful civil society that will uphold due process at any cost?

We spend over Rs. 30 crores annually (Over 6.7 million USD) to keep Kasab alive and safe while knowing very well that we are going to kill him eventually. (Kasab was sentenced to death by a trial court, which was upheld by the Bombay High Court earlier this year). It's safe to say that it is time to end the circus and execute him as there is little more information he has to offer our investigators.

Seeing as Mumbai is all too familiar with this, let's hope that we get few things right going forward:

Since the Indian Mujahedeen is reported to have taken credit for these attacks, the moderate Muslim leaders must make their voices heard -- be the first (preferably beat Pakistan) to issue press statements condemning these acts and express an interest in speeding up what's left of Kasab's trial.

The media must black out any anti-Pakistan and/or polarizing voices. The world knows that the most frequent victim of such bomb blasts and acts of terrorism is Pakistan.

This is the erudite Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram's chance to reassure citizens of the security machinery set in place after the attacks on 26/11; authorities should be quick to make arrests.

Chidambaram's first statement came only two hours after the blast and was concise: it clarified that there were three and not four blasts and gave the home minister's account of the number of injured, dead and assured the media of briefings every two hours. He also reassured viewers of the status of security forces. One would have liked to see our reticent Prime Minister step up and address the nation as well.

It's heartening to see that our journalists seem to have learned from their mistakes as well. One can't help but notice the caution with which Barkha Dutt, Group Editor, NDTV is anchoring the story, after all the flack she received during the 26/11 Mumbai Attacks and the accuracy with which reporters are sending in their stories at the cost of speed.

Attention-seeking text messages, false news and rumors have also been at the minimum. Credit to all the public figures who microblogged appeals to not forward or broadcast messages from unreliable sources.

There is little news in the fact that Mumbai is an easy target for terrorists with its vast coastline and uncontrollably crowded public transportation system. As jaded as they sound, statements like "we are fed up" and "when can we feel safe?" are certainly justified. The city was just getting confident of its safety and security after 26/11. This time around, Mumbaikars will seek strong government action and demand quick results. Maybe before the 13th day of September.