Special Judge M.L. Tahaliyani delivered a landmark verdict on Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Amir Kasab in a packed courtroom at Mumbai's Arthur Road Jail. This is one story I have followed very closely. On November 26, 2008 I had just finished anchoring at 9.30 pm when the first flash came - shooting at Leopold. Was this gang war? We broke the regular show and dived into breaking news. The next flash - automatic weapons used, AK-47s and grenades hurled. This was most certainly a terror attack. Moments later, shooting at VT (Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus), a blast in a taxi at Ville Parle. It was unending...shooting at the Oberoi Trident and the Taj and then at Nariman House.
A.N. Roy, then director general of police, Maharashtra, told me on a 'live phono' that this was most certainly a very well organised terror attack and asked our channel to request people watching TV to stay where they were and not venture out on the streets. Leave the roads open for emergency services.
The young reporters and camerapersons of Headlines Today and Aaj Tak braved bullets to get us live shots of the terror attack. The entire team fanned out across the affected areas, capturing events on the ground, speaking to sources and piecing together the nightmare that was unfolding live. The killing of Hemant Karkare, Ashok Kamte and Vijay Salaskar came as another extremely rude shock. Just hours earlier, our western India bureau chief Sahil Joshi had interviewed him.
Sahil was returning from the police commissioner's office at VT and was on his way to Andheri when he got a call about firing in Colaba. Principal correspondent Ariz Chandra was at TV Today's Nariman Point office with senior camerman Raju Inamdar. He also heard about the firing at Oberoi Hotel - barely 2 minutes of walking distance from our office. They rushed there. They heard the gunfire and saw the injured being taken by the police in a van. Raju Inamdar rushed to Cafe Leopold in Colaba.
Our guest coordinator Muqtar Sheikh called Sahil and said his relatives had heard blasts at the CST. Reports came in of firing at the station too. Most reporters were on their way home. They rushed back. Principal Correspondent Vidya rushed to Metro Cinema. Rajesh Kumar went to the CST. Aditya Aman rushed to Taj. Vivek Bhat rushed to cover the Vile Parle taxi blast. Cameraman Kiran and Virendra Singh Ghunawat went to the Nariman House. Our outdoor broadcasting vans were placed at the Oberoi, Taj and CST.
Rahul Kanwal, our executive Editor, and I anchored till after 3 that night. The studio was live through the night. At 5 am on 27th November, I rushed to the airport. Sabina Sehgal Saikia's brother Nikhil and husband Shantanu were on the same flight. Sabina was at the Taj. We were all tense. At 8 when we landed, our entire team from Delhi fanned out to different attack spots.
I rushed to the Oberoi Hotel - a childhood friend of mine in the security forces was engaged in the anti-terror operations. The picture he painted was scary. He said they were facing trained commandos. The 'enemy' knew the training, tactics and standard operating procedures of the security forces.
Late that night I moved to cover the Nariman House operations where the NSG commandos launched a heli-borne operation at dawn. Over the next 60 hours, we reported from the historic Gateway of India (Taj Hotel), CST, Oberoi, Nariman House and from the homes and hospitals across the city. India had been attacked.
I was back in Mumbai on the first anniversary of the terror attacks. Was Maximum City safer? Had we learnt our lessons? What were Mumbaikars saying? And then again back in the city for the verdict. Reporting from dawn till past midnight on the verdict and then the death sentence.
Sense of closure?In the past decade or so, I have covered almost every major terror strike in the country...The stench of burnt flesh, limbs strewn around, crying faces, mangled shops, cars and scared people are etched in my mind. The terror attack at the Ahmedabad civil hospital was horrifying but nothing was as horrible as the Mumbai terror attacks.
The death sentence for Kasab is a significant step but in no way gives a sense of closure - to the victims of 26/11, their families and next of kin or even to people like us who covered the attacks and the trial.
Our weak-kneed leaders and the equally weak resolve of our entire political leadership leave much to be desired for. In 2005, Afzal Guru was convicted by the Supreme Court of India for his role in the attack on the temple of Indian democracy - the Parliament. Yet the terrorist remains on death row for over five years. Neither the BJP nor the Congress has shown urgency to display a brave and united face to combat terror. This is not only sad but downright disgusting. Politics over terror.
There is a genuine fear that politics will take over even Kasab's case. Some 'jhola-wallahs' will stand up for their five minutes of fame and put a spoke in the wheels of justice. Even the learned judge M.L. Tahaliyani feared that Kasab should not be allowed to live because there is a history in this country of a Kandhar-like hijack. The same could be repeated...this time for the release of Kasab. A prominent politician could be kidnapped or their kin could be abducted, and like in the case of Rubiya Saeed the government will release terrorists.
After all, the life and safety of the common man means nothing in India.
Show resolve, hang KasabThe real sense of closure will come when India hangs Kasab. The judiciary in this country is held in very high esteem and looked up to for guidance. Let the High Court and Supreme Court decide Kasab's case in record time. Hear it on a daily basis and deliver their verdict. And then let the government of the day at the Centre and in Maharashtra show the same speed in advising the President of India on the issue. Let Kasab jump the queue and meet his fate. Every day that Kasab, the lives of innocent Indians are endangered. If the government shows signs of delay, the government will also have blood on its hands.
Nail the CEOs of jihad factoriesHafiz Mohammad Saeed, Maulana Masood Azhar, Illyas Kashmiri, Dawood Ibrahim and the CEOs of the jihad factories in Pakistan are still active and plotting more terror attacks on innocent Indians.
Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Lucknow, Chennai, Hyderabad...the entire nation is on the terror crosshairs. Indian interests in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world are also threatened.
The government should focus on taking out the CEOs of the jihad factories by overt and covert means. Talk to Pakistan but ensure India is never attacked again. Show a firm resolve and tackle terror as a national aim. The government owes it to the nation.