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India’s Government Under Scrutiny After Mumbai Attacks

December 2, 2008 at 6:25 PM EDT
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The terror attacks in Mumbai, India, have shaken the city's citizens and raised questions on the government's response. Simon Marks reports from Mumbai on how residents across the city are reacting to the deadly siege.
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JIM LEHRER: More anger in the streets of Mumbai. We have a report from special correspondent Simon Marks.

SIMON MARKS, NewsHour Special Correspondent: It is Asia’s largest slum. Dharavi, in the center of Mumbai, is effectively a city within a city, a rabbit warren of sometimes Dickensian living conditions that is home to an estimated 600,000 people.

And today, while the artisans of Dharavi were at work as usual, grinding turmeric for use in daily cooking, pouring kerosene used in the slum for cooking and heating, and mending fraying clothing, their numbers were swelled by slum residents who said they still don’t feel safe enough to venture into the south of the city, where last week’s attacks took place.

HUSAIN PIRASI, Tailor (through translator): We got very anxious watching it all unfold on TV. The children didn’t go to school, and some people did not go to work.

SIMON MARKS: The residents of Dharavi were unscathed by last week’s assault. None of them was caught up in the indiscriminate attacks that started last Wednesday night and killed more than 180 people.

But they all told us they followed events relentlessly on television. And like city residents who were directly affected by the drama, they are angry at the government for not adequately securing the country.

INDIAN CITIZEN (through translator): We feel very angry that they came into India, really angry.

SIMON MARKS: And some voices here are urging the Indian government to strike back at Pakistan, which Delhi blames for sponsoring the terrorists who landed on Indian shores last week.

The Indian government is demanding that Pakistan hand over 20 fugitives, including two suspected Islamic militant leaders, from the disputed region of Kashmir. The leader of a group representing residents of Dharavi says it’s time for India to declare war on its neighbor.

INDIAN CITIZEN: Why don’t Indians attack Pakistan? Why not attack it? There are about 100 million people are staying in India. Pakistan is such a small place. It would take hardly one-and-a-half to two hours to capture Pakistan.

'Universally shared' anger

Husain Pirasi
Tailor
We got very anxious watching it all unfold on TV. The children didn't go to school, and some people did not go to work.

SIMON MARKS: In Muslim neighborhoods of Mumbai, tensions ran high in the immediate aftermath of last week's attacks, amid fears that Hindu nationalist politicians might try to whip up anti-Muslim sentiment in the city.

But with Pakistan being blamed for the attacks rather than indigenous Islamic fundamentalist groups, communal relations in Mumbai seem calm. And Muslim community leaders have not only expressed outrage over the terrorist assault, they've told the government they won't permit the bodies of the nine terrorists killed last week to be buried in the city's Islamic graveyards.

INDIAN CITIZEN: I myself am in a state of shock, why this madness is happening, because this is an act of totally mad and insane people who have done this.

SIMON MARKS: And that anger appears to be universally shared in Mumbai and extends this time to the city's business elite, many of whom were inside the Taj and Oberoi Hotels when they came under attack.

Mumbai has suffered many terrorist attacks in the past, but none that has cost so many lives within the city's business community. Now business leaders here say their sense of personal loss is fueling their determination to seek an effective response from the government.

ANAND MAHINDRA, Managing Director, Mahindra Group: We have to act very quickly. And those of us who feel we can make change have to take advantage of the moment.

Learning from the United States

Anand Mahindra
Managing Director, the Mahindra Group
There is enough wealth in India today in the coffers of the government, both state and regional, to spend on this. The problem in both the center and the state is the decision-making hierarchy.

SIMON MARKS: Anand Mahindra is the managing director of one of India's largest car manufacturers. He's watched as parts of Mumbai have prospered thanks to the unleashing of Indian entrepreneurialism over the past two decades.

But the city's new prosperity and sense of confidence were put at risk by the terrorist attack. And the elite here had to watch as national and local authorities struggled for 60 hours to overcome an assault they claim was led by just 10 terrorists.

ANAND MAHINDRA: The crisis management infrastructure is not a result of a lack of means. It's not out of a lack of resources. The money exists. There is enough wealth in India today in the coffers of the government, both state and regional, to spend on this. The problem in both the center and the state is the decision-making hierarchy.

SIMON MARKS: The government is discussing the possible formation of a new counterterrorism agency, but a growing number of business leaders in Mumbai argue the city itself needs beefed-up leadership.

ANAND MAHINDRA: What we need to emulate is something that always existed in New York, and that is a mayor of the city that was effectively a CEO. Nothing substitutes for having one strong command-and-control infrastructure, and particularly in a crisis.

I hope this will precipitate that kind of change in the structure of Mumbai's governance.

SIMON MARKS: In the Dharavi slum today, we also heard calls for India to look to the United States for guidance. On the eve of a visit to New Delhi by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, people told us the United States hadn't allowed another terrorist attack to occur after Sept. 11, 2001, and India now needs to follow its example.

Reports that the U.S. warned the Indian government of a possible terrorist attack being launched from the sea are only adding to the sense that more could have been done by the authorities in Delhi to prevent last week's events.

And with two million square miles of ocean for Indian authorities to patrol, the country's long coastline remains highly vulnerable to militants intent on mayhem.