26/11: Why they attacked Nariman House

Prabhaker Acharya
Prabhaker AcharyaFeb 10, 2016 | 09:07

26/11: Why they attacked Nariman House

Headley's deposition tells us that the Siddhivinayak Temple was one of the main targets

David Headley's deposition before a special court in Mumbai, via video conferencing, throws light on the diabolical planning that went into the multi-pronged attack on Mumbai by the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists on November 26, 2008.

The places to be attacked were carefully chosen, to inflict maximum casualties: the CST station complex, one of the most crowded places in the city, and two iconic five star hotels, Taj and Oberoi.

Headley's deposition tells us that the Siddhivinayak Temple was one of the main targets. But the police barricade at Girgaum Chowpatty, where Ismail Khan and Ajmal Kasab were trapped, saved the temple. That was a lucky escape, because Khan and Kasab, heavily armed, could have breached the barricade - if their unfamiliarity with the unique reverse gear of the car (Skoda Laura) they had commandeered from three civilians had not foiled them. But why was Nariman House, a residential building where, in the Jewish Centre, only a few people were staying, attacked?

The reasons are obvious. Xenophobia, generated by the Palestinian problem, is one. A more important one is Pakistan's intense desire - and need - to spoil the relations between India and Israel. Pakistan's foreign policy, right from the beginning, has had one paramount objective: to cultivate countries assiduously which are potential sellers of military hardware, and lobby against India there, so that India's supply of arms is affected.

But there was no way they could lobby in Israel. So spoiling India's relationship with Israel becomes a matter of great strategic importance to the Pakistani army; and that was why two of the well-trained suicide commandos, Abu Umar and Babar Imran, were sent to Nariman House, to take the inmates there as hostages first, and then murder them.

This comes out clearly in the exchanges between the terrorists in Nariman House and their handlers in Karachi, picked up by Indian intelligence, as quoted by Sandeep Unnithan in his meticulously researched book, Black Tornado. Sajid Mir, the Karachi-based handler of Babar Imran, tells him on his cellphone: "Israel has made a request through the diplomatic channels to save the hostages. If the hostages are killed, it will spoil the relations between India and Israel."

To those who love Mumbai, and know its history, the brutal massacre at Nariman House has a special tragic dimension. The contribution of the Jewish community to the development of the metropolis has been immense. David Sassoon, the chief treasurer of the Pashas of Baghdad from 1817-29, had to flee Baghdad because of Daud Pasha's persecution. He arrived in Mumbai in 1832. Like the Zoroastrians earlier, the Baghdadi Jews found a safe haven in India, loved this country and helped to build it.

Look at what the Sassoon family did for Mumbai: they built Sassoon Docks, Mumbai's oldest docks, the magnificent David Sassoon Library, synagogues and schools, and Victoria and Albert Museum (now called "Bhau Daji Laud Museum"). The land of Victoria Gardens (now called "Jijamata Udyan"), spread over 48 acres - which houses one of the oldest zoos in India - was donated by them to the Bombay Municipal Council.

Other Jewish communities - like Bene Israel, who adopted Marathi as their mother tongue, the way Parsees adopted Gujarati - made important contributions to Bombay's social life. David Abraham, for example, was not just the beloved "chacha" of Hindi Cinema; he also headed the Weight-lifting Federation of Bombay for 30 years.

And Nissim Ezekiel was perhaps the most important cultural icon of Bombay in the second half of the 20th century. Though many of the Jews emigrated in recent years, some, like Ezekiel, stayed on. They loved the city and felt they "belonged" here. Ezekiel wrote in one of his "Poster Prayers":

"Confiscate my passport,

Lord, I don't want to go abroad.

Let me find my song

Where I belong."

It would be, for Mumbai, a tragic loss if the massacre at Nariman House has accelerated the emigration of Jews - because the community formed an important strand in the rich, variegated social fabric of the most cosmopolitan of Indian cities.

Last updated: May 13, 2018 | 14:16
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