Home > News > Columnists > Saisuresh Sivaswamy
Because Mumbai is India...
August 27, 2003
When 13 bombs went off one after the other on March 12, 1993, across Mumbai, the Western world looked upon it as a localised incident.
But when two bombs rocked Mumbai on August 25, 2003, the same audience has sat up and taken notice. US President George W Bush offers India any assistance required to finish off the scourge of terrorism haunting it.
It would be stating the obvious to attribute the change in perceptions to September 11, 2001, when the West, particularly the United States of America realised the extent of the global tentacles of terrorism.
To paraphrase Zen, the tick tock of an electric timer in Basra, Iraq, could very well lead to tremors of a different kind in Washington, such is the inter-splicing of the terrorist forces stalking the civilised world today.
India has constantly held the view that there is no 'your terrorist' and 'my terrorist'; thankfully, the world is acutely aware of the truth today, even though the price of that realisation has been heavy.
It is because of this coming together of the victim-nations of terrorism that the malcontent who thinks nothing of blowing up innocent children and women in his glorious war for justice will never succeed.
Sure, there will be further evidence of this great warrior's bravery -- hidden bombs will continue to go off sporadically, and innocent lives will continue to be lost -- but he will be no closer to realising his vision than he was in March 1993.
But why is this terrorist stalking Mumbai with the persistence of the human immuno deficiency virus? Various theories abound for this choice: as the financial capital, incapacitating it at a moment of economic resurgence will ruin India; that the city represents the fault line between practitioners of different faiths and languages; that the anonymity it offers is at the same its Achilles Heel; the presence of mind-numbing poverty cheek by jowl with awe-inspiring wealth presents a bank of disaffection ready for perverse manipulation; the proximity to Gujarat and the presence of a large number of Gujaratis, both hate targets since the saffronisation of that state and in particular the anti-Muslim riots of last year.
All that is true, but there is one other -- more significant -- reason why Mumbai has been chosen for a regular demonstration of the terrorist's reach and strike. And it lies in the choice of the Gateway of India -- not just another historic monument genuflecting to the colonial era but a vibrant symbol of the city -- as a target.
Truly, Mumbai is not just the gateway to the country -- as evidenced by the fact that a large number of tourist arrivals enter the country via Mumbai -- but its very alter-ego. Celebrated often as urbs prima indis -- I have often wondered at the choice considering the state of its infrastructure designed for one-tenth the population -- it is at the same time the jewel in India's crown as well as its embodiment.
For everything that is good about India is true of Mumbai.
And everything that is bad about India is equally true of Mumbai.
Multi-religious, poly-cultural, cosmopolitan, welcoming, enterprising and industrious -- adjectives that describe India fit Mumbai to the T.
The negatives are common, too: monumental civic indifference, for one, that characterises India as well as this city.
Political New Delhi may claim the status of the head, but it is Mumbai that is India's heart. It is here, among the city's grime and dust, that the great dream of India enunciated at the midnight hour of August 14, 1947, is being lived every minute. Mumbai is India in miniature; destroy it, and the larger picture falls apart.
Mumbai has been chosen for the exact reasons that New York City was chosen on September 11, 2001. Both cities embody their respective nations; gut them, and the dream of nation-building is destroyed.
But the terrorist's maniacal obsession will not come to bear because of his own stupidity. So long as terrorism remained a localised phenomenon, confined to national and regional precincts, the world would never have joined together in combating it. But terror, like hatred, is a cancer that feeds on the perpetrator as much as it destroys the victims. It rears its head through megalomania, and ultimately claims its votary.
When the terrorist decided to transcend oceans in search of global domination, he sounded his own death-knell. Today he is a fugitive -- not just from justice but even from the very people whose cause he claims to espouse. No one wants anything to do with him, least of all his own people. He can run, but he will not be able to hide for long.
The day when he is ferreted out like a rat from the sewers is not far off.
Adversity makes or breaks a man, and a city. And Mumbai's glorious moments have been its darkest. Its never-say-die spirit will match any terrorist's resolve to bring it to its knees and, despite the presence of a loony fringe, will never keel over.
But the terrorist's ability to strike, and vanish, with impunity will put the very people he claims to represent under greater strain. In that sense, we are all equally victims of terror without exception. And it is incumbent upon every one of us, without exception, to face the challenge together. Not as Hindus and Muslims, Maharashtrians and Gujaratis but as citizens of a great metropolis whose magnanimity we so callously exploit.
George Bush may be reviled for his lack of worldview at least till he entered 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue but as someone who was present in New York City on the fateful day in September 2001 and heard his decisive speech, I cannot but help harking back to it.
The swamp of terrorism needs to be drained wherever it is present -- in our neighborhood, backyard, our own homes, wherever. The terrorist must be denied any and every support available to him because in this struggle for supremacy there is no 'us' and 'them'. The government can do only so much in the fight -- ultimately it is up to the citizens to join the fight because the war is being waged in all our names.
And as always, it will be Mumbai in the cross-hairs.