Of all the images out of Mumbai since Nov. 26 a wild-eyed gunman in cargo pants and T shirt, black smoke engulfing the grand dome of the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, a cherubic toddler robbed of his parents the one hardest to grasp is Mumbai without people. Driving toward south Mumbai on the morning after the attacks, the city's normally teeming streets were emptied of life. In one sense, this was lovely, if disturbing: you had unimpeded views of the city's stately colonial buildings, its stone-paved avenues and the glittering sea. But this absence of humanity also revealed how stunned and baffled Mumbai's citizens were by the brazen attacks on their home. They stayed inside because they knew this was more than just another random bomb blast, the kind Indians usually shake off like so many mosquitoes.
Today, the people of Mumbai have re-emerged. They are angry, at both Pakistan, which many believe was the source of the atrocity, and their own government. And they have awakened to a realization that something fundamentally has altered, and that their city, indeed nation, needs fixing, perhaps even a rebirth. "We've been attacked before," says Rohini Ramanathan, a radio talk-show host whose morning program has been flooded with emotional phone calls. "But after these recent attacks people are saying, 'Let's not pretend everything's all right.' We don't need to make a show of the Mumbai spirit when what we need now is to make sure this will not be forgotten. All will not be normal again." It's not just Mumbai. Among the 185 dead were visitors and expats from Israel, Singapore, the U.S. and Britain, and those who had come seeking work in India's most exciting place from all over the country: a software engineer from Bihar, a hotel manager from Manipur, a lawyer from Andhra Pradesh.
How can Mumbai's rage be channeled into real change for all of India? Indians want better intelligence, more responsive emergency services, stronger border defense, but some are also calling for an acknowledgement of the poisonous disaffection among Indian Muslims, widespread corruption among local police and the other ugly realities under the surface of India's much heralded economic boom. "Deep down, there is this pervasive feeling of massive government failure," says Mujibur Rehman, a political scientist at the Centre for Dalit and Minorities Studies at the Jamia Millia Islamia university in New Delhi. The attacks on Mumbai have forced India to confront those issues on an unprecedented scale. This is the first attack that has made a significant impact on India's wealthy and middle classes, those who have so far been insulated from the worst of the violence that has pockmarked so much of India over the past 20 years. "We, meaning the middle classes, live in this little bubble that we've created around us," says Pankaj Mishra, the author of several books about contemporary India. "But the problems around us will explode and continue to explode." How the country and its leaders respond to that call will determine whether Mumbai's tragedy turns into a national one.
Bordering on War
The shock of the attacks and the slow agony of watching the three-day siege unfold on television immediately invited comparisons to the Sept. 11, 2001, acts of terror in New York City. "This is our 9/11," was the refrain heard from both Mumbai's citizens and other Indians. It wasn't long before someone followed that thinking to its logical conclusion: bomb Pakistan, just as the U.S. bombed Afghanistan. Simi Garewal, a former actress and talk-show host, said on a cable news show that "America gave out the right signals to the world that they cannot be messed around with ... You carpet bomb where these [Pakistani militants] are, you carpet bomb the area." Her comments were quickly followed by outraged condemnations of warmongering in a wounded city. Yet she was tapping into a very real emotion. "We've let them get away too many times," says Rohan Gohil, a real estate agent in Mumbai. "But now we should teach them a lesson once and for all."
Blaming Pakistan is almost a reflex among Indian politicians; they have been right and they have been wrong. Pakistan has been accused of promoting the Punjab insurgency in the 1990s (its leaders were Indian Sikhs) and in more recent bombings that have since been pinned on Indian jihadis or, in one case, a Hindu nationalist group. In the Mumbai attacks, the Pakistan link is more substantial: the one suspect who was captured alive and arrested, Ajmal Amir Kasab, has been identified by Indian authorities as Pakistani. (The other nine suspects were killed by police.) U.S. intelligence officials have pointed to a Pakistan-based militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, as the likely perpetrator. This trickle of evidence has heated up the simmering tension between the countries, pushing them down an alarmingly familiar path the same one that led these two nuclear-armed countries to the brink of war after the 2001 attack on India's Parliament. That was also blamed partly on Lashkar-e-Taiba, and more than half a million Indian and Pakistani troops faced off along the border.
The bellicose talk is obscuring a more difficult but far more significant conversation. "There are obviously people in Pakistan who are intent on undermining India and attacking India, and the Mumbai attack reminds the world of that fact," says Mishra. "But we in India have been using this Pakistani involvement to ignore the growing problems within India." First among those is the increasing disaffection of India's Muslims because of what historian Ramachandra Guha calls "the failures of the Indian state." The country's 138 million Muslims, who comprise 13.4% of the population, are poorer and less educated than the rest of India and vastly underrepresented in both India's largest employer, the state railway system, and its élite civil service.
The sources of that anger are not just economic. India has made little progress in resolving its decades-old dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir; in the meantime, the Indian troops who occupy it have turned the state into a swamp of resentment and virulent anti-Indian sentiment. The most raw grievance is the 2002 violence in the western state of Gujarat: nearly all of the 2,000 victims were Muslim, but only a handful of cases have been prosecuted. Gujarat, Kashmir and the 1992-93 anti-Muslim violence in Mumbai in which hundreds were killed yet only three people convicted have become rallying cries for jihadist groups across South Asia. While the Mumbai terrorists issued no manifesto, one of them called the India TV news channel and demanded, "Are you aware how many people have been killed in Kashmir? Are you aware how your army has killed Muslims? Are you aware how many of them have been killed in Kashmir this week?" Says Guha: "This is the poisoned fruit of the deliberate polarization of Hindus and Muslims."