The Longest Sixty Hours of The Mumbai Mayhem – Col N N Bhatia (Retd)

Misfortunes enter when a window is left open to them.

-A Czechoslovakian proverb.

When heaven sends down calamities there is a hope of weathering them, but when man brings them upon himself there is no hope of escape.

– A Chinese saying.

At about 0800 hrs on 29 Nov 2008 after 60 long frightening and uncertain hours of the ‘ fidayeen attacks‘ on Mumbai, the commercial capital of India, the National Security Guards (NSG) commandos victoriously embraced each other with a faint smile playing on their faces while the DG NSG on the electronic media stated that the Taj Mahal Hotel was clear of the terrorists and sanitization operations were being carried out in the premises. Needless to say, the whole nation anxiously remained glued to their TV sets for hours together and had a sigh of relief with pride and jubilation  Almost at the same time my mobile blinked and I had the sms I was waiting for from Brig Bobby Mathews, Commander Mumbai Sub Area who was in thick of operations saying dutifully typically in army lingo ‘Operation over. All OK. Regards – Bobby’. Bobby was my Adjutant when our Battalion 2 KUMAON (Berar) was deployed in Ahmedabad riots in 1954.

Notwithstanding the brave and committed effort put up by the local police, the armed forces, especially the NSG and the Marine commandos, the appreciation of the magnitude and handling of the crisis by the political masters and bureaucracy both at the Centre and the State levels were inept with uncoordinated knee jerk responses as if routine localized tragedy had occurred. It is felt our response lacked the leadership qualities of the type exhibited by the Mayor of the New York when twin towers were struck on 9/11.Our responses in spite of the repeated terrorist attacks and disasters suffers from ‘routine chalta hai’ syndrome  and  need to be handled in more professional maturity and proactive way.

 Sadly it was again often repeated intelligence failure as we refuse to learn from our past mistakes or else ‘why and how’ could with unprecedented stealth, sweep and speed, the terrorists attacked 10 different locations and then moved into three iconic buildings – the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Hotel Trident-Oberoi and the Nariman House of the Jewish Community for indiscriminate killings in pitched battles that left 187 killed and over 300 injured which included 22 foreigners. Twenty two security personnel also laid their lives in this avoidable tragedy. The brazen grit, determination and the doggedness with which these terrorists fought, and the range of arms, ammunition, explosives, technical gadgetry like  sat phones and global positioning systems with which they were equipped, underlined their high morale, motivation and months of careful preparations. While Mumbai was maimed our prestige as emerging global power was put to shame internationally with cancellation of England’s cricket tour and numerous other mega events. It is debatable as to who carried out these attacks. There were perhaps two separate groups that were involved in this mayhem. One group could be sleeper cells of the local fundamental motivated Indian Muslims who gave intelligence and logistic support ahead of the attacks while the second group came from Pakistan via ship from Karachi, later hijacked a small Indian fishing trawler ‘Kuber’, killing its crew, got past Indian coastal patrols, and ultimately landed near the Gateway of India to wreck havoc in Mumbai by blowing up the Taj Mahal Hotel and inflicting heavy casualties. Extensive preparations had been made, including surveillance and gathering real time hard intelligence of these ‘soft targets’ and logistic support for the operations of this magnitude through Indian associates sympathetic with LeT and al Qaida to execute well-planned attacks. No wonder apparently all eyes and fingers accuse LeT, and al Qaida, duly supported by the ‘D’ Company and the notorious ISI for these senseless attacks.

As per media reports, 10 terrorists were shot dead and one apprehended whose interrogation has revealed above findings. It is further intriguing that they could book room No 630 in the Taj Mahal Hotel that was stocked with large quantities of arms ammunition and explosives apparently with the support of the local sleeping cell. It is a matter of interest that quite naturally, while our security forces were ‘foreign and unfamiliar’ with the areas of their operations in their own city, the alleged Pakistani terrorists had blue prints of the Taj Mahal Hotel and used it to their advantage in fighting pitched battle(s).The magnitude and the scale of the this terrorist act has been so large that it could set stage for major confrontation between two nuclear states. Reports suggest Pakistan has started mobilsing its troops from its Western border against Afghanistan to its Eastern border with India. Will some one from the government responsible answer, ‘Was it not again the repeated total failure of intelligence from macro to micro field level once again” and who should be taken to task for this national shame?

Lessons that need to be learnt from Mumbai Mayhem

Political leadership

The political leadership both at the state and Central level was awfully inapt. We all may recall how in the US, the Mayor of New York voluntarily seized leadership that motivated and coordinated relief operations after the 9/11 terrorists’ attacks on the twin towers. But our local political leaders remained in the background. Nothing could be more bizarre than Maharashtra CM Deshmukh with his actor son visiting the Taj Mahal Hotel with film producer Ram Gopal Verma day after the attack with large police contingent for their protection seemingly looking for a film on Mumbai terrorist attacks to be made with his son in the lead role. In an another instant Kerala CM was not allowed to visit family of the late Major Unnikrishnan of the NSG who sacrificed his life fighting terrorist in Taj Mahal Hotel. The Kerala CM’s remarks that had Unnikrishnan not been a Major of the Indian Army and died in action, not a dog would have visited his house were rather unfortunate and uncalled for. The traumatized family needed healing touch that was unfortunately missing. In another such instance ATF chief Karkare’s widow refused the financial aid from Gujarat’s CM Narendra Modi, as he a few days before the Mumbai action had demanded narco test of this gallant top cop investigating Malegaon incident. It is also desired that the VIPs and big wigs should not visit such operational sites with large paraphernalia as their visits distract operations.

National Response

Rightly every man and woman in our country gets highly agitated over such terrorist acts and disasters and seeks governmental protection and aid. Unlike the US and Israel, our national response lacks punch due to non involvement of the common man and woman in the street which is so much evident in the US or Israel where every able bodied person  undergoes compulsory military training. Its time, we as a nation involve our youth in compulsory military training. It will not only provide abundance trained manpower in matters military but also channelise their energies in national defence and nation building. It was indeed sad to see that while country was under attack, marriages with pomp and show and vulgar display of wealth were being solemenised at many places including Mumbai. Austerity during grave national crises should be the natural norm and response as a nation.

Establishment of Control Room

I saw the war on terrorism in Mumbai being fought on the TV but I really wonder there was any Centralized Control Room established with proper maps, communication set up and facilities for periodical media briefings. The VIPs rather visiting the operational sites where they hinder and distract operations need to visit only the Centralised Control Room for briefings. It appears this was not done.

Homeland Security

We have vast porous coast land and land borders. Therefore, we need independent dedicated homeland security apparatus both at national and state level to coordinate country’s security. This cannot be left on Border Security Force, Coast Guard and similar other Para Military Forces (PMFs) working independently under the home ministry. We should learn from the US model where homeland security is core function of the federal government and after 9 /11 no major act of terrorism has occurred. Similarly Israel is surrounded by hostile Muslim states but efficacy of its homeland security is role model for rest of the world to imbibe. The US president elect Barack Obama after introducing Hillary Clinton as  his choice for Secretary of  State unveiled appointments of  General James Jones, the  former NATO commander as  National Security Advisor and retained cold war veteran Robert Gates as his Secretary Defence thus laying great emphasis on homeland security.

Maritime Security

While maritime security would be part of the homeland security, intelligence collection and safety and security of our exclusive economic zone would need special attention of the Coast Guard duly supported by the Indian Navy and coastal area police force. Our Coast guard and Navy’s blue water capability also needs to be augmented so that Somalia like pirates do not hijack our merchant vessels at will for ransom. We must register and computerized all fishermen, their boats and trawlers and ensure no illegal poaching or fishing is done in our waters. Services of local fishermen must be utilized for maritime intelligence. Had credible action been taken on the fore warning of carriage of suspicious goods in a boat given by the local fishermen by the Coast Guard and the local police, our pro-active response would have prevented terrorists’ attacks on Mumbai.

Federal Intelligence Agency

Time and again our reactive response has been due to intelligence failure but we have failed to learn from the past. We do understand its importance but each intelligence agency does not want to give up its autonomy and works independently. The users seldom get real time actionable hard intelligence as field units gathering intelligence forward it to their masters in Delhi who by the time pass it users becomes stale old and non productive. Also inputs given are delightfully vague and used to save own back incase of crisis. Mostly our sources of information are same for our different intelligence agencies. These raw inputs need credibility that needs to be ensured by other means. Therefore, our resources in human and technical intelligence need to be augmented and upgraded. We should also utilize our space capability to gather intelligence from this dimension as well. We need to develop satellite surveillance and sharing of intelligence with other friendly countries to mutual advantages.  In the instant anti- terrorist operations, though some political heads have rolled down, bosses of the intelligence agencies are enjoying immunity. The National security apparatus needs to be streamlined and overhauled and made accountable.

It is often criticized that armed forces lack intelligence gathering mechanism. Though armed forces are the major users of the intelligence, in our set up, during peace times, primarily our armed forces depend on Research and Analysis Wing for the external intelligence and the Intelligence Bureau for the internal and peripheral countries intelligence. The armed forces own intelligence organizations are only capable of localised combat intelligence when contact with enemy is made during hostilities. Therefore, it is inappropriate to criticize them for intelligence failure. There is also need to coordinate sharing of intelligence inputs generated by anti- narcotics, customs, revenue, finance and economic departments of centre and states, space, atomic energy, industry, states police, all Para Military Forces, various NGOs and other agencies / oranisations of the country.

National Security Guard & Special Forces Response

The NSG is located at Manesar; good one hour drive from Indira Gandhi Airport at Delhi during non-peak hours. The IAF aircraft earmarked for their lift to Mumbai was located at Chandigarh that took time to refuel and come to Delhi wasting valuable time. Our Standing Operating Procedures (SOPs) should lay down procedures and drills for such crisis management. It would have been worthwhile to do emergent requisitioning of suitable aircraft from private airlines /Air India for quicker transportation of the NSG commandos for swifter response.

It is desirable that the Special Forces like Para commandos and subunits of the NSG are located at nodal cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkatta, Guwahati and Chennai for quicker response to cover vast country of ours. Where ever they are located, they must be close to an airport, railway station and communication centre for quick real time response. In grave emergency all national resources both in public and private domains should be mustard for quickest optimized response. It is mandatory to place helicopters with landing and refueling facilities for their quickest response from their bases and airports to their operational sites.

Our armed forces do not have basic equipment like stun grenades, smoke grenades and rubberised bullets. Use of these in built up areas paralyses target ensuring his capture. A captured terrorist would not only be effective source of intelligence but credible evidence to support our claim against Pakistani support to such dastardly acts. Needless to say, our troops also need good communication and global positioning systems.

The NSG was raised in 1984 for anti-hijacking and anti-terrorist operations with two wings- Special Action Group (SAG) comprising crack army personnel on deputation and Special Rangers Group (SAG) from Para Military Forces (PMF).It is a matter of grave concern that more than half the resources of the SAG are being wasted in protecting politicians like Deve Gowda, Amar Singh, Ram Vilas Paswan, Sajjan Kumar, RL Bhatia, Sharad Yadav, Murli Manohar Joshi and so on. While some of them may have genuine threats , on others this highly trained resource is being misused more as status symbols.

Its time  NSG is placed under command of a three star Army General.It was pity seeing NSG DG,a police officer  during Mumbai attacks moving about and giving press statements when he had perhaps no role in planning a military opeation launched by the military element of the Armed forces.At best SPG could be rightly under an appropriate rank  police officer.

National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA)

 It is disappointing to note that the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) formed under the Ministry of Home Affairs only reacts during natural disasters like floods, fires, famines and earthquakes. I am not sure how effectively the NDMA is operating as during recent Bihar floods its response was sluggish. Infact various NGOs and voluntary organizations responded much faster. Its time we revamp and co-opt NDMA in all types of disasters. It can be very effective in post disaster activities of rehabilitation and succor to traumatised victims who beside medical and financial relief need psychiatric and psychological treatment to restart living normal lives fast, so often badly neglected.

The NDMA constituted in 2005 is part of the home ministry but functions directly under the Prime Minister.  Its Executive Committee has maximum 9 members who are   nominated by the PM and assisted by the Secretaries of the relevant ministries and Chief of Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) as Armed Forces representative who takes all decisions on behalf of the Armed Forces.

 Each State is required to establish State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) under its chief minister. The SDMA is to be assisted by the District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA). The NDMA and SDMAs in each State were required to establish state of the art control rooms (Emergency Operation Centers) which were to be manned round the clock during emergency. Indian Metrological Department (IMD) was made its part to disseminate all early warnings to these Control Rooms. I am not too sure this infrastructure and SOPS have been created in each state and district levels as these were no where visible in the recent Bihar floods or Mumbai attacks. Effective workable plans for natural and man made disasters need to be formulated from village, panchayat, taluka, district, state and upwards to national level with details worked out for each level. Selection of suitable professionals, communications, rehearsals and resource allocation on need basis should naturally be taken care off.

Are We Prepared Against Nuclear Disasters

Technology for making atom bomb is ready available. Impulsion ‘Nuclear Bomb’ can be made from just 9-12 kgs of enriched uranium  (90% purity) but  ‘Dirty Bomb’ can be made with much lesser. Numbers of thefts of ‘Cobalt 60’ have been reported having taken place in various cancer hospitals world over. Cobalt 60 can be used for making ‘Dirty Bomb’ easily. Similarly, there are reports that number of suitcase sized nuclear bombs were missing after breaking away of the Soviet Union. Possibility of these falling in the hands of terrorists & rogue states exists.

Protection Against Nuclear Detonation

Presently we are neither prepared nor steps have been taken in educating the masses on nuclear disasters. Disaster Management should be included in under graduate courses, IAS & IPS and armed forces academies. Numerous NGOs, media, civil defence & industry need to be co- opted & involved to meet such challenges.

Police Equipment and Reforms

Our police reforms are overdue since ages despite numerous recommendations of various expert committees. Our police force is under staffed, ill equipped, ill trained and physically and mentally unfit. The pot bellied police man carries colonial stigmas of Daroga Raj, bribes, corruption and fear psychosis amongst masses. Hordes of local police were seen during Mumbai operations hanging around with antiquated World War 1 Enfield 303 rifles while terrorists were masquerading with latest AKs, ammunition, explosives, sat phones and global positioning systems. Our entire police force needs rifles and equipment of the day, physical, mental and emotional training, motivation and good professional leadership. Needless to say, police must be people friendly with high professional integrity.

It is also matter of grave concern that a few terrorists could hijack police car with its top ATS cops sitting inside and killing them. It intrigues any professional mind as to where were protection staff of the top cops, back up vehicle(s) and loaded personal arms of the occupants! Quick intuitive action of the trained professionals should have knocked these terrorists at very first instance.

Media Management

Media management was shabby as no periodical briefings from ‘Operational Control Room’ were organised. Numerous news channels kept giving conflicting news and visuals. In such situations during nights, lights in areas outside the buildings under terrorists’ siege should be switched off to unable terrorists taking pop shots on people outside. During intervening nights of operations with camera lights on, the electronic media crew attracted fire many a times but mercifully there were no casualties.

Terror Management

Management of violence in urban scenario with huge population and traffic congestion is most hazardous, complex, time consuming and strenuous military operation. The collateral damage to property, casualties of innocent people attract severe attention of the media and human right groups. All this needs specialized training, communications and ability to operate intuitively as security forces would be operating, as was in  the instance case, in small groups and sub groups independently.

Isolation of Rouge State(s) and Terrorists

Its time our response against Pakistan is firm. This can only yield results if diplomatic, military and economic pressure from international community of nations and the UNO is exerted against Pakistan and those countries that are funding and supporting terrorism. Unless the US, Russia, China, Japan, Israel, the European Union and the United Nations, World Bank, Asian Development Bank, SAARC etc will not act in firmly in unison  isolation of Pakistan and the terrorists would not be possible. India should also deliberate on the option of striking terrorists camps in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) after taking the US, Russia, China and the European Union in confidence.


While Mumbai was under terrorists’ siege and our brave patriotic armed forces personnel were risking their lives to save innocent people taken as hostages, I asked my countrymen where Raj Thackeray was hiding when Mumbai was bleeding. No one saw him near Taj Mahal Hotel, Nariman House, Chatrapati Shivaji Terminal, Cama Hospital or Hotel Oberoi Trident with his MNS goons- the so called ‘sons of the soil’ when Mumbai needed him the most! The Army, the NSG and the Indian Navy commandos braving terrorists’ bullets were not the ‘Marathi Speaking Mumbaikars.’ So why should they shed their blood for Mumbaikars! Will Raj Thackeray please answer these nagging questions to every Mumbaikar nay every Indian especially to those non- Mumbaikar civilians and foreigners and armed forces personnel who lost their lives to save Mumbai and the country from the terrorist attacks and the national shame.

Mr Raj Thackeray, I with all patriotic Mumbaikars and Indians bow my head in shame on your cowardice and doings against the North Indians that are equally detesting than these senseless terrorist acts. Let us unite to defend our country with dignity self pride and honour. Let us not forget in vain sacrifices of every Indian who has laid his life for the safety, security and integrity of our brave martyrs. Mr Thackeray its time for your repentance. Please honour their sacrifices for the Mumbaikars. This is not the time for retribution, blame game or politics. We should to rise above petty sectarianism, provincialism, casteism, communalism and politics as patriotic Indians. Fighting terrorism is a collective national honour and responsibility of every citizen to destroy perpetrators of theses dastardly acts. Mumbaikar is commercial hub of the country synergized not only by Mumbaikars but all Indians who live and work there.

Though Kasab was hanged a few days back, it does not put an end to Pakistani sponsored terrorism on our sovereignty , values and ways of lives..For that sustained international diplomatic,political, economic social,moral and military pressure over a long period is needed by our highest leadership in the country.Lastly, will some body answer my last question! In Beijing Olympic shooter was given over Rs 3 crores on winning a gold medal. In London Olympics all bronze medalists got Rs 5 crores each for winning the bronze medals.But another shooter dies fighting terrorists and enemy in Mumbai or else where and his family barely gets compensation of Rs 5 lakhs .Do we have conscience as a nation..!!

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