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'Why are politicians coming?'
Amberish K Diwanji in Mumbai |
August 26, 2003 21:43 IST
Last Updated: August 27, 2003 19:22 IST
Traders at Jhaveri Bazaar hint that terrorists and politicians are on the same side. They are out to disrupt the trading activity of India's commercial capital, they feel.
"How else can you explain the fact that this area has been cordoned off to allow politicians to pay a visit," asked an agitated Subodh Jhaveri, who owns a cloth shop at Jhaveri Bazaar.
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Subodh is honorary secretary, Shri Mumbai Jeevdaya Mandali, a charity that seeks to save animals from abattoirs. The Mandali's first floor office overlooks the site where the blast occurred on Monday. Since then, the area has been cordoned off for the police to look for clues. "Today, since morning, this area has been shut so that the politicians can pay a visit. Why are they visiting the area?"
The politicians were Deputy Prime Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani and Leader of the Opposition Sonia Gandhi. Both are accorded Z+ category security, the highest level of security. Such security means a massive convoy every time they travel, with ambulance in tow and an electronic jammer vehicle in front, not to mention scores of police cars and accompanying local politicians, all eager to garner 15 minutes of fame in the shared spotlight. Thus, for every politician, there are at least 20 cars and jeeps.
Jhaveri Bazaar, the traders reiterate proudly, is the richest locality in India. For the traders, who have been there for generations (most shopkeepers inherited the shops) the high skyrises at Nariman Point may indicate wealth and investment but when it comes to money, it is Jhaveri Bazaar.
The narrow and congested streets of Jhaveri Bazaar house a diamond market, a gold market, a gem market, while literally a stone's throw away is the Mulji Jetha Market, Asia's largest yarn market. The late Dhirubhai Ambani, one of India's greatest tycoons, began his career as a businessman at the Market.
On a working day, the streets are chock-a-block with people. Walking 100 meters can be an ordeal. Driving a car can be a nightmare.
The buildings are dilapidated . The shops are on the ground floor or first floor, while workers reside on the upper floors. In some upper floors, most of the jewellery work -- cutting diamonds, polishing, making the jewellery -- is carried on by artisans, most of who hail from West Bengal.
'It will take three days to settle down'
Babul Kar is a jewellery artisan. His workshop is barely 50 meters from the blast site. It serves as an apartment for him and his fellow workers after the day's job is done. All his colleagues are from Howrah, Kolkata and surrounding districts.
Today, Kar has no work. He and his friends stand on the streets, waiting to see L K Advani and Sonia Gandhi. "It will take at least three days for things to settle down," he said. Kar said since he and his colleagues are paid on a monthly basis, they would get their salaries despite the forced absence of a few days. "If we don't resume work after a week, we might lose some money," he said.
Kar explained that jewellery workers are a close-knit group since they deal with expensive items. "We know each other, so there is no chance of cheating. Tomorrow, if we get an outsider, what happens if he runs away with the diamonds or gold?" he asked.
The diamonds, gold and gems are handed over to Kar by the jewellery shop owners to be designed and made into ornaments. Trust plays a crucial role since work is done on an informal basis.
In Kar's workshop are gas cylinders and sulphuric acid, both needed for the job. Had the blast occurred near the workshop, the collateral damage would have been greater. "We are lucky," said a jewellery shop owner.
It is virtually impossible to place a figure on the business turnover at Jhaveri Bazaar daily. "Hundreds of crores (a billion rupees) would not be an exaggeration," insisted Subodh.
Part of the difficulty is also that not every transaction is recorded, especially in the jewellery and gems trade. There are about 7,000 shops at J M Market. Each shop has three traders. Each trader may transact business worth up to Rs 25,000 per day!
A day after the blast, there are still signs of the damage. Most handcarts that sell snacks and food items are closed. But for other businessmen on streets a little further away , it is business as usual. Their wares are on display. Shops are open. But the number of customers appears less than on a regular day.
It is at the place where the blast occurred, about 100 meters from the Mumbadevi Temple, from which the city derives its name, the streets are blocked. Completely. And the traders are complaining.
"What purpose do these politicians' visit serve," asked Inder Bhandari, who owns a shop on Mumbadevi Road, opposite the blast site. "These politicians come here, make speeches to television cameras gathered, and don't inquire about our welfare, forgetting it is we who suffered."
Yesterday's blast shattered the front glass pane of Bhandari's shop, strewing small jewellery items all over the street. He is desperate to have the pane refitted and get on with business but he has lost another day. "Since 8 am, we have not been allowed to move around freely. We can't call the windowpane fitter since the police are not letting people into the area, simply because the politicians are coming," he complained.
The panes and false ceiling in Subodh's office were also damaged. His grouse is that all of today, he could do nothing as the police stopped all movement.
"Are we traders terrorists who will shoot them?" asked another shopowner Lalitbhai Palrecha. "Why could we not have been allowed to get on with repairing our shops? We have lost a precious day. Every day matters? When will these politicians understand that?"
Palrecha claimed that when Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal visited yesterday, he was booed.
The resentment against the politicians came to the fore when some people, watching Advani speak to the media from a balcony, jeered him. Sonia's visit fared a little better. Paranoid cops made sure everyone was kept far away from her.
Palrecha blames the police, particularly road traffic officers, or RTOs, for the blasts. "On these narrow streets, where it is difficult for people to walk, the cops allow cars to double-park. Anyone can bribe a cop and park his car despite No Parking signs. It was one such car that blew up with the explosive," said Palrecha.
He said he and other shopkeepers have complained about curbing the number of vehicles parked.
"The area provides so much by way of taxes to the government, but the government does nothing for us," said Palrecha. "We don't even have a police booth in the area. No wonder the terrorists found it so easy to strike here."
For the traders, not only does the government not help them when needed, but it does not even let them carry on with their routine after a disaster.