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26/11/2008: How does the economy of Mumbai aid terrorism?

26/11/2008: How does the economy of Mumbai aid terrorism?

Pallavi Mehra

The terrorists who attacked Mumbai on the November 26, 2008 knew what they were doing. They were determined to destroy India’s economy, its tourism and its cosmopolitanism. Mumbai is the financial and entertainment capital of India. The militants attacked the soul and spirit of India. They assaulted symbols of Mumbai’s growth and prosperity. The targets chosen by them were predominantly high profile, and the victims belonged to the elite class of Mumbai. It was Mumbai’s and India’s 9/11. (Tharoor, 2009)

Indians have come to assume outsider involvement in every terrorist attack on their soil. However, it is not possible for alien forces to attack a city without the help of the native population.

Indians have come to assume outsider involvement in every terrorist attack on their soil. However, it is not possible for alien forces to attack a city without the help of the native population. By giving an overview of what specifically happened on the aforesaid day, I will attempt to answer the question; what are the local forces present in Mumbai that perpetuate terrorism on their own soil?

Ten Pakistani terrorists made their way from Karachi, Pakistan to Mumbai by sea. They hijacked a commercial Indian fishing boat in the Arabian Sea and reached Mumbai in smaller boats. They made their way to downtown Mumbai, unchecked by authorities and let loose grenades and bullets indiscriminately. Their mission lasted sixty hours and approximately one hundred and seventy people lost their lives. It is believed that the militants had enough ammunition to kill approximately five thousand people. The terrorists also carried satellite phones, global positioning system handsets and satellite photographs of the target locations. They were equipped with food and water and reportedly also injected cocaine into their bloodstream to continue fighting for nearly three days. This mission ended when commandos from India’s National Security Guard killed all but one of the terrorists. (Kronstadt, 2008)

Ten locations in Mumbai were attacked; eight of which were in south or central Mumbai. All the sites were chosen for specific reasons; some of these included their noticeable positions, minimal security and easy ‘accessibility’. There were also simultaneous blasts in the outskirts of the city- in the neighborhoods of Vile Parle and Mazagaon. The Pakistan based terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) has been held responsible for the attacks. (John, 2008)

There are numerous factors already present in Mumbai that make it conducive for terrorists to attack the city. A major cause is the presence of inhabitants who aid international militants. This is commonly referred to as ‘intimate acts of terror’ because its perpetuators are local residents. Moreover, there exists unorganized street crime aided by organized gangs in Mumbai. There is a link between these gangs and terrorism (Rao, 2007). Further investigations confirm connections between Dawood Ibrahim’s gang D-Company and LeT. Dawood Ibrahim is Mumbai’s most powerful gangster. He is on Interpol’s list of ‘Most Wanted’. Ibrahim is suspected of financing LeT’s activities. This feature of the attack highlights the changing role of Mumbai gangsters from local criminals to international terrorists. (John, 2008)

An additional issue that contributes to making Mumbai an easy target is the corruption in governmental and other agencies. The bureaucracy in Mumbai is easily influenced by external powers through monetary incentives. The rampant corruption enables terrorists to breach the security of the city. Moreover, there is a large income disparity in Mumbai.

The opportunity to make quick money also results in impoverished youth aiding terrorists.

A different concern is the congestion in Mumbai. There are one million people per square mile in central Mumbai. The terrorists who attacked Mumbai in 2008 entered the city through the sea and lived in a slum for a few days before carrying out the attacks. The presence of slums made it impossible for the Mumbai police to make anyone accountable for the terrorist’s presence in the city. Consequently, the large population also makes security a serious concern. (Mehta, 2004)

These attacks proved that the government of Mumbai had not taken measures to prevent acts of violence even after previous terrorist attacks. The police and other response teams made numerous mistakes on the unfortunate day. There have been numerous media reports regarding the ineffective protective gear used by the Mumbai Police. The quality of the bulletproof jackets has been a subject of much contention. (Kronstadt, 2008)

Due to their unimpressive salaries and general working conditions, the Mumbai Police has been criticized for having a very low ‘police-to-population ratio of about 125 per 100,000’.

The underlying cause of the failure of the Mumbai Police Force was that it was ineffectively prepared for an attack of this scale. The overwhelming size of the attack led to confusion and an organizational paralysis. This can be attributed to lack of financing and training along with ineffective weapons, outdated surveillance and communication systems amongst others. Due to their unimpressive salaries and general working conditions, the Mumbai Police has been criticized for having a very low ‘police-to-population ratio of about 125 per 100,000’. (Kronstadt, 2008) While, the United Nations required ratio for an urban police force during non-emergency situations is nearly double that number.

The Indian Coast Guard was unsuccessful in protecting the coast of Mumbai because it had only about 100 boats to protect a coastline of more than 5,000 miles. The courage of the commandos from the National Security Guard, New Delhi helped overcome the terrorists. It was quite clear that these commandos would be needed in the siege. They were ordered by the then Home Minister to be installed 90 minutes after the first shooting. However, they reached the locations only ten hours after the first attack. (Kronstadt, 2008)


Pallavi Mehra graduated from Dickinson College, USA (Economics Major with Honors) and begins her Masters in Economic Policy, Columbia University in 2016.

References 

  1. Kronstadt, K.A. (2008, December 19). Terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, and Implications for U.S. Interests. Congressional Research Service.
  2. Tharoor, S. (2009). After Mumbai don’t demonize India’s Muslims. New Perspective Quarterly, 26, p. 57-59.
  3. Mehta, S. (New York: Vintage, 2004). Maximum city: Bombay lost and found.
  4. Rao, V. (2007). How to read a bomb: scenes from Bombay’s Black Friday. Public Culture, p. 567-592.
  5. John, W. (2008, December, 5). Underworld role likely in Mumbai attacks.  India Abroad, 39, p. A35.

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