News & Current Affairs

July 16, 2009

Pakistan and India in terror vow

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:51 pm

Pakistan and India in terror vow

Taj Mahal hotel under attack in November

A total of 166 people died in the attacks in Mumbai in November 2008

India and Pakistan will work together to fight terrorism, the countries’ prime ministers have announced.

Meeting in Egypt, they said the fight against their “main threat” should not be linked to wider peace talks.

However, India’s Manmohan Singh later said no dialogue would start until those behind last year’s attacks in Mumbai (Bombay) were “brought to book”.

Relations between the two countries deteriorated after the attacks in which militants killed more than 160 people.

India has accused Pakistan-based fighters from the banned militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba of carrying out the attacks.

Pakistan has admitted they were partly planned on its soil – and vowed to do all it can to bring the suspects to justice.

Climb-down ‘denied’

ANALYSIS
Jill McGivering, BBC News
Jill McGivering,Courtesy
BBC News
Broadly speaking the prime ministers emerged in positive mood. Both sides found agreement on some basic principles.

Crucially, they also agreed to separate their debate about action on terrorism from more general dialogue. That was a key demand from Pakistan – and may make it possible for the mechanism of talks to be revived, independent of India’s continuing demands for tougher action on militant groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group India blames for the Mumbai attacks.

That apparent concession from India was offset by some tough statements on terrorism. Mr Singh has to face an Indian public which is still angry about the Mumbai attacks and frustrated that, so far, Pakistan has done little to convict those responsible.

Prime Ministers Yousuf Raza Gilani of Pakistan and Manmohan Singh of India made the pledge after meeting in Egypt.

The talks on Thursday – on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement’s summit in Egypt – were the third high-level meeting between the two nuclear-armed neighbours since the Mumbai attacks last November which brought an abrupt halt to peace talks.

“Both leaders affirmed their resolve to fight terrorism and co-operate with each other to this end,” the joint statement of the talks said.

“Prime Minister Singh reiterated the need to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to justice and Prime Minister Gilani assured that Pakistan will do everything in its power in this regard.”

The two prime ministers agreed to co-operate on the investigation.

Manmohan Singh and Yousuf Raza Gilani meeting in Egypt
Both leaders agreed that terrorism is the main threat to both countries
Joint statement

“Pakistan has provided an updated status dossier on the investigations of the Mumbai attacks,” their statement said.

The two leaders also agreed to “share real-time, credible and actionable information on any future terrorist threat”.

Last week Pakistan said the trial of five men suspected of involvement in the attack on Mumbai’s Taj Hotel was likely to start this week.

In a move likely to please Islamabad, the prime minister’s joint statement said action on terrorism “should not be linked to the composite dialogue process” – which includes talks on the disputed territory of Kashmir.

The BBC’s Sanjoy Majumder in Delhi says many in India will see this as a major climb-down in Delhi’s stance.

And moments after the joint statement had been issued, Mr Singh appeared to contradict the joint statement.

He told a news conference dialogue “cannot begin unless and until terrorist heads which shook Mumbai are properly accounted for, (the) perpetrators of these heinous crimes are brought to book”.

Advertisements

July 12, 2009

A return to the heart of Mumbai

Filed under: Latest, Politics News, Travel — Tags: , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 4:58 am

A return to the heart of Mumbai

Despite India’s economic success, it is still home to millions of the world’s poorest people. Martin Buckley lived in Bombay, as it was known, in the 1980s. He recently went back and found, as he walked about after sunset, that the essential character of the city remains unchanged.

Mumbai at night

Mumbai: Twenty million people live in India’s most populated city

Bombay by night. It is hard to think of three words more expressive of history, exoticism, and empire.

And I do not begrudge the “new” name, Mumbai (the city was renamed in 1995).

The city’s presiding goddess is Mumba-Ai, and I spent a chunk of the 1980s living close to her temple in the heart of the city.

It was my first job after university, working on a magazine called Business India. Very few foreigners worked in Bombay then.

Pre-boom India was still locked into its Soviet-style command economy.

Paid local rates, I lived in a succession of seedy rooms in downtown Bombay.

We sometimes put the magazine to bed at 0300 local time, and I would walk home.

On the pavements were string beds, where men lay, totally abandoned in sleep.

I never felt threatened for an instant.

Slum living

We have heard a lot lately about Mumbai’s slums, so I thought it would be interesting to revisit my old haunts.

Dharavi slum

Dharavi is Asia’s largest slum spanning more than 500 acres

Mumbai is a long, thin city, and on its northern fringes, residential suburbs are mushrooming.

I went to visit Dharavi, the slum made famous by the film Slumdog Millionaire, which is nearer the city centre on land the developers would love to get their hands on.

This “slum” has electricity, workplaces, temples and mosques.

I asked a street trader selling school exercise books if he had heard of Slumdog Millionaire.

“Of course,” he said, adding that tourists had been turning up in droves to see where the film was shot.

But he said they should go home, as no-one wanted them there.

I felt no danger in Dharavi, at least, not from people.

Stepping on a sleeping dog – an actual “slum-dog” – was far more of a worry.

‘Light beatings’

The next night, a hot, sticky evening, my first stop was at a downtown police station in central Mumbai, to interview a police inspector.

Child actor Azharuddin Ismail in his Mumbai slum

The Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire highlighted the city’s slums

He was a sleek character, with manicured nails, dyed hair and an expensive-looking Swiss watch.

Sipping sweet tea from an improbably refined china cup, I sheepishly asked about the brutal police torture shown in Slumdog Millionaire.

“Ridiculous,” he replied, though he did admit that what he called “light beatings” were routine. And no, I could not visit the cells.

He moved hastily on to more comfortable territory, showing me his CCTV screens, and declaring how modern forensics had transformed criminal investigation.

His biggest task, he stressed, was managing tensions between Hindus and Muslims.

Doggedly, I asked about police corruption and drugs mafia, but received peremptory replies.

Prostitution he claimed, was sharply down, but not through policing. Rather, he claimed it was because people were terrified of catching Aids.

Decomposing facades

Physically, central Mumbai has changed far less than I expected.

There are some elevated highways from which, I am told, motorcyclists periodically plunge.

A market in Mumbai

The markets and dockyards of Mumbai are still thriving

But the great tenements still rise in terraces draped with washing, their Victorian or art deco facades slowly decomposing.

Few of the 1960s-style Fiat taxis have been replaced by newer cars.

There are bullock carts toting jute bales, tiny shops with colonial interiors, hawkers selling fruit from trolleys, men sitting cross-legged in the street selling shoes, basket-weavers working and living on the pavements.

Markets sell everything from metal ware to fresh fish, and as 2200 approached, I could still see live mullet writhing in baskets.

Nearby were the entrepots of Mumbai’s thriving dockyards, with the seedy, raffish air of a Conrad novel. And it is much easier to buy a beer in contemporary Mumbai than it was in my day.

Religious tensions have worsened, but I passed Hindu and Muslim traders working side by side.

Decay and ambition

In Bhuleshwar, in the old heart of Mumbai, I visited the city’s presiding Hindu goddess.

The pillars of Mumba-Ai’s tiny temple were entwined with flowers to resemble an indoor forest, and people urgently jostled for a glimpse of the deity.

By midnight I had reached Falkland Road, Mumbai’s infamous red light district.

Women stood around gloomily, their faces showing none of the flirtation that is supposed to be their profession’s stock in trade.

Mumbai’s sex industry caters to millions of poor men, and its squalor and joylessness are all too evident.

A pimp was hanging onto my arm. I asked him if it was true that client numbers were down. He became aggressive. Was I there to spend money or ask nosy questions?

I flagged down a taxi, and slid on to the back seat. Through the open window, the air was now pleasantly cool.

The essential character of the great city I had known and loved 25 years ago, seemed to me unchanged, and it was still a Dickensian canvas of decay, ambition, and exploitation.

But Mumbai is pragmatic. It looks chaotic, but it works.

July 5, 2009

Young slumdog moves into new home

Filed under: Entertainment News, Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 8:06 am

Young slumdog moves into new home

The block of flats where Ismail will live

Azharuddin’s mother says she is happy they have “a roof over our heads”

One of the child stars of the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire has moved from his Mumbai (Bombay) shanty dwelling into a new home in the city.

Azharuddin Ismail, who played the youngest version of the main character’s brother Salim, will now live in an upmarket suburb nearby.

He said his new home was “really nice” but he would miss his old friends.

A trust set up by the film’s producers bought the property after Azharuddin’s family was made to leave the slums.

The Jai Ho Trust, named after the film’s sound track, says it is still looking for a new home to buy for co-star Rubina Ali.

‘Roof over our heads’

Azharuddin, nine, and his family moved into the property in the Santa Cruz area of Mumbai after being given the keys on Friday.

Azharuddin Ismail prepares to pose for a photo outside his newly allocated apartment in central Mumbai on July 4, 2009.

Azharuddin says he will miss his old friends

“I like it here, it is really nice,” Azharuddin told Reuters news agency. “But I will miss my old friends back in Bandra. Maybe I will go and visit them once in a while.”

His mother said: “We have lived on the road for so many years. I had never dreamed that we would have a roof over our heads.”

Slumdog Millionaire won eight Oscars in February and has made more than $200m (£140m) in box office takings around the world.

Film director Danny Boyle has strongly denied charges of exploitation.

The Jai Ho Trust bought the property on Azharuddin’s behalf and it will become his when he turns 18 and finishes his education.

There was uproar in May when the family’s corrugated iron hut in the Gareeb Nagar area of Bandra was torn down for being illegal. Rubina Ali’s suffered a similar fate but she has yet to be rehoused.

January 24, 2009

India PM undergoes heart surgery

India PM undergoes heart surgery

Manmohan Singh

Mr Singh’s surgery comes just months before a general election in India

Doctors have begun heart bypass surgery on Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after he was admitted to hospital in Delhi, Indian media report.

A team of six to eight surgeons was expected to operate on the 76-year-old leader, after two blockages were found in his arteries, officials said.

Mr Singh previously had bypass surgery in 1990 and an angioplasty in 2004.

The ruling Congress Party says he will still lead the party in the forthcoming general election which is due by May.

Mr Singh underwent tests earlier this week after he complained of chest pains.

He will have “coronary artery bypass graft surgery” performed by doctors from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, India’s top state-run hospital, and the Asian Heart Institute in Mumbai.

Doctors say that there is “very little risk” associated with Mr Singh’s surgery and that the prime minister should be fit to resume normal duties in three to four weeks.

Succession speculation

This is not a good time for the prime minister to be removed from the political fray, given the tense relations with Pakistan in the wake of the Mumbai attacks.

Rahul Gandhi

Will Rahul Gandhi emerge as a successor to Mr Singh?

Congress has so far dismissed concerns that Mr Singh’s health would interfere with its current election campaign.

But there has been widespread speculation that party chief Sonia Gandhi has been lining up her son, Rahul Gandhi, heir to India’s powerful Gandhi dynasty, as the country’s next prime minister.

Mr Singh has largely been in good health since he was sworn in as prime minister in May 2004, but he recently underwent prostate surgery and has also had cataract treatment.

Mr Singh, who studied economics at Cambridge and Oxford, became India’s finance minister in 1991 when the country was plunging into bankruptcy, and is widely regarded as the architect of the country’s economic reform programme.

The quietly spoken economist-politician is also seen as the cleanest politician in India, a subject dear to voters’ hearts.

Government officials said that Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee will take charge of cabinet meetings during the prime minister’s absence.

December 27, 2008

Pakistani mourners honour Bhutto

Pakistani mourners honour Bhutto

Pakistan has marked a year since the assassination of Benazir Bhutto with a two-minute silence, while thousands of mourners visited her mausoleum.

President Asif Ali Zardari, her widower, used the occasion to call for peace and democracy in Pakistan and the resolution of problems through talks.

Analysts say the call was also aimed at India, which blames the recent attack on Mumbai on Pakistani militants.

Mrs Bhutto died in a suicide attack in Rawalpindi after an election rally.

Mourning ceremonies focused on the Bhutto family mausoleum in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh, in the southern province of Sindh.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon says he expects an independent inquiry into her death to be set up soon.

Tears and flowers

Local police officials in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh told news agencies that about 150,000 people had travelled to the site.
They came from around the country, by train, plane, car and even on foot, chanting Bhutto slogans, some wailing and beating their chests in an outpouring of emotion reports.

Mourners kissed her grave and laid flowers at the mausoleum, where official ceremonies were delayed because the site was shrouded in winter mist and fog for much of Saturday morning.

These were her devoted supporters, but many other Pakistanis were also feeling the loss of the charismatic politician, famous abroad and at home, our correspondent says.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani paid tribute in a televised address, saying Mrs Bhutto had “worked for poor segments, for poor people and she was the only ray of hope for the people of this country, she was a hope for the region”.

Mr Zardari delivered a televised speech from the family home in Naudero, Sindh.

“Dialogue is our biggest arsenal,” he said.

“The solution to the problem of the region… is politics, is dialogue and is democracy in Pakistan.

“I want to tell the oldest democracy and the largest democracies of this world: listen to us, learn from us. We have lost our people, we do not talk about war, we do not talk about vengeance.”

Thousands of police officers have been deployed in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh, amid fears that Mr Zardari could also be targeted during his visit to the mausoleum.

Multiple crises

Eulogies to Bhutto gloss over her mixed record when in power and her controversial decision to make a deal with Pakistan’s military leader, Gen Pervez Musharraf, in order to return from exile, our correspondent adds.
Benazir Bhutto. File photo
Many Pakistanis say they sorely miss Benazir Bhutto

But her assassination by suspected Islamist militants shook the nation to the core and although Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party and her husband swept to power in the wake of her death, there is still a feeling she left a vacuum that has not been filled, she says.

Pakistanis are missing her political experience and international stature, as they face crises ranging from a raging Islamist insurgency to dangerous tensions with India, our correspondent notes.

Pakistan has redeployed some troops from the north-west to strengthen its border defences, while India has advised its citizens against travelling to Pakistan.

On Friday, the UN secretary general expressed hopes that a UN investigation into Mrs Bhutto’s assassination could be set up in the near future and said he was committed to helping Pakistan’s search for “truth and justice”.

Earlier this year, British detectives investigating the fatal attack in Rawalpindi said Mrs Bhutto had died from the effect of a bomb blast, not gunfire.

Their account matched that of the Pakistani authorities.

But Bhutto’s party has insisted she was shot by an assassin and accused the government of a cover-up.

Are you in Pakistan? Have you been attending any of the ceremonies today? Send your comment

December 1, 2008

Pakistanis wary of Mumbai claims

Pakistanis wary of Mumbai claims

Pakistans rally in support of the army, following allegations from India over the Mumbai attacks

Some Pakistanis have rallied against claims of links to the Mumbai attackers

Indian media reports detailing Pakistani links to the audacious Mumbai attacks have been met with deep scepticism in Pakistan.

“Why do they always blame us?” said an airline worker in the port city of Karachi, from where some of the gunmen are alleged to have set off for Indian shores.

“Any time something happens in India, they say Pakistan is behind it, but they don’t come up with any proof.”

A boutique owner agreed. “Everybody’s out to get us,” he said as his customers expressed fear that Indian agents would retaliate by striking Karachi.

Such blanket dismissals fail to acknowledge Pakistan’s history of using Islamist militant groups to fight proxy wars against India in the disputed region of Kashmir.

One of these, Lashkar-i-Taiba, was blamed for the attack on India’s parliament in 2001 that brought the two countries to the brink of war.

However, it denied that, as well as any involvement in the Mumbai atrocities ,which lasted three days and left over 170 people dead and hundreds injured.

Indian ‘denial’

Whatever the case, Pakistanis say Indian accusations have become reflex actions that don’t take changing realities into account.

“It is interesting that Indian security agencies failed to detect such a massive operation during its planning stage, but wasted little time in fixing the blame on some Pakistani group,” wrote defence analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi in the local Daily Times newspaper.

“If they knew who was responsible, why could they not pre-empt it? India needs to face the reality of home-grown radicalism, and realize the futility of blaming Pakistan for its troubles.”

Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi

Foreign Minister Qureshi had hoped for a “warming” with India

Mr Rizvi expressed a widely held conviction here that India is in denial about its problems with indigenous Islamist groups that have surfaced in recent years – rooted, it’s believed, in state discrimination and communal violence against Muslims.

And, say Pakistanis, India has got it wrong before.

The fire-bombing of the Samjhauta Express train between New Delhi and Lahore in February 2007 was first blamed on Pakistan, but later linked to Hindu extremists supported by an Indian army colonel.

‘Brisk escalation’

At the official level, both the government and the military have also warned India against jumping to hasty conclusions, but otherwise their responses have differed.

Political leaders have gone out of their way to condemn the attacks and offer “unconditional support” in the investigation, promising to take action if any Pakistani link is established.

A conflict with India is the last thing they want after succeeding the military-led government of retired General Pervez Musharraf last year.

“I’m concerned because I could see forward movement, India warming up to Pakistan, constructive engagement,” said Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi at the weekend.

“Let us not fool ourselves, the situation is serious when people in India are calling this their 9/11,” adding that he hoped the “hiccup” in relations would be overcome soon.

Pakistan’s powerful security establishment, however, is more cynical.

Mumbai residents grieve near Nariman House, the scene of one of the battles with gunmen

As India grieves, Pakistan has offered “unconditional support”

Despite a peace process which began in 2004 it sees India as stalling on Kashmir, and it is convinced Delhi’s allegations are aimed at trying to discredit Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI).

“The Indians are taking the escalation level up at a very brisk pace,” a senior security official said on Saturday.

He too pledged co-operation but said if India began to mobilise troops, Pakistan would respond in kind, even if that meant pulling soldiers away from fighting Taleban and al-Qaeda militants on its border with Afghanistan.

The different attitudes towards India were publicly exposed when political leaders were forced to retract a promise to send the intelligence chief to Delhi.

While President Asif Zardari described this as a “miscommunication,” others blamed the government for failing to consult the military before making the unprecedented announcement.

Already the army’s been taken aback by overtures to India made by Mr Zardari.

Most recently the president offered no first-use of nuclear weapons, ignoring decades of established policy.

The apparently off-the-cuff remark in an interview with Indian media astonished Pakistanis as much as Indians.

It remains to be seen whether this rift will grow under mounting pressure from India and the US, which fears that souring relations between the two rivals will hinder its attempts to encourage regional co-operation against Islamist militancy in Afghanistan.

Mumbai official offers to resign

Mumbai official offers to resign

A man reads a newspaper outside the Chandanwadi Crematorium in Mumbai on Sunday, November 30

Mumbai has been shaken by the attacks

The deputy chief minister of the Indian state of Maharashtra has offered to resign after criticism for failing to deal with the Mumbai attacks.

RR Patil said his decision was guided by his “conscience”.

Armed with guns and bombs, attackers targeted multiple locations on Wednesday, killing at least 172 people.

Meanwhile, on Monday Mumbai limped back to normality with markets, schools and colleges open and heavy traffic on the city’s streets.

On Sunday, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh opened cross-party talks on setting up a federal agency of investigation after the attacks.

Home Minister Shivraj Patil resigned, saying he took “moral responsibility”.

Mr Patil’s resignation was accepted by the prime minister but an offer to resign from the national security adviser, MK Narayanan, was turned down.

Questions have been asked about India’s failure to pre-empt the attacks, and the time taken to eliminate the gunmen.

Two of Mumbai’s best five-star hotels – Taj Mahal Palace and Oberoi-Trident – and a busy railway station were among the high-profile targets which were hit.

The violence which began on Wednesday night finally ended on Saturday morning.

I looked back to see the waiter who was serving me getting hit by a bullet
Shivaji Mukherjee
Mumbai attack survivor

The attacks have increased tensions with Pakistan after allegations that the gunmen had Pakistani links.

Islamabad denies any involvement, but India’s Deputy Home Minister Shakeel Ahmad told the news it was “very clearly established” that all the attackers had been from Pakistan.

Indian troops killed the last of the gunmen at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel on Saturday.

‘Minor incidents’

“I have gone by my conscience and put in my papers,” Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister RR Patil was quoted by news agency Press Trust of India as saying.

Public anger has been building up against Mr Patil ever since media reports that he made light of the terror attack by saying that such “minor incidents do happen in big cities”.

The minister also told a press conference that “the terrorists had ammunition to kill 5,000 people. But the brave police, security forces crushed their designs and reduced the damage to a much lesser degree”.

The claim has not been confirmed by the security forces.

Meanwhile, on Monday morning normal peak-hour traffic has been leading to jams in many places across the city.

Hotels across the city have tightened security with guests being frisked before being allowed entry.

Most hotels are not letting any vehicles enter as a precautionary measure.

Protests

On Sunday, Prime Minister Singh held a cross-party meeting in Delhi.

Mr Singh was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying he planned to increase the size and strength of the country’s anti-terrorist forces.

As few as 10 militants may have been involved in Wednesday’s assault which saw attacks in multiple locations including a hospital and a Jewish centre.

While the vast majority of victims were Indians, at least 22 foreigners are known to have died, including victims from Israel, the US, Germany, Japan, Canada, Australia, Italy, Singapore, Thailand and France. One Briton, Andreas Liveras, was also killed.

When coastguards boarded the vessel, they found… a satellite phone and GPS tracker that possibly belonged to the trawler’s crew.

Hundreds of people took to the streets of Mumbai on Sunday to protest at the perceived government failures.

Protesters said the authorities should have been more prepared for the attacks, and also questioned whether warnings were ignored and the time it took commandos to reach the scenes of the attacks.

Police continued on Sunday to sift through the debris in the Taj hotel.

They are also questioning the one attacker who was captured alive to try to establish who masterminded the assault.

 Map of Mumbai showing location of attacks

November 27, 2008

Troops confront Mumbai attackers

Troops confront Mumbai attackers

Employees and guests of the Taj Mahal Palace hotel are rescued by fire crews

Employees and guests of the Taj Mahal Palace hotel are rescued by fire crews

Indian security forces have been exchanging fire with gunmen holding dozens of hostages in two luxury hotels in the Indian city of Mumbai (Bombay).

Troops surrounded the premises shortly after armed men carried out a series of co-ordinated attacks across the city, killing 101 people and injuring 287.

The hotels were among several locations in the main tourist and business district targeted late on Wednesday.

Police say four suspected terrorists have been killed and nine arrested.

The situation is still volatile in two of the most high-profile targets of Wednesday’s attacks – the Taj Mahal Palace and Oberoi Trident hotels, where armed men are believed to be holding about 40 hostages.

Flames and black smoke billow from the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, Mumbai

There are reports of intermittent exchange of fire between security forces and the armed attackers barricaded inside both hotels.

Correspondents say security personnel have so far not stormed the premises perhaps for fear of endangering the lives of hostages, some of whom could be Westerners.

There are also unconfirmed reports that five gunmen have taken hostages in an office block in the financial district of Mumbai.

The city’s main commuter train station, a hospital, and a restaurant were among at least seven locations caught up in the violence.

In other developments:

• Fire crews evacuate people from the upper floors of the Taj Mahal Palace, where police say a grenade attack caused a blaze

• Israel says it is concerned for the safety of its citizens in Mumbai, as a rabbi and his family are feared captured by gunmen

• The head of Mumbai’s anti-terrorism unit and two other senior officers are among those killed, officials say

• The White House holds a meeting of top intelligence and counter-terrorism officials, and pledges to help the Indian government

• Trading on India’s Bombay Stock Exchange and National Stock Exchange markets will remain closed on Thursday, officials say.

Gunmen opened fire at about 2300 local time (1730 GMT) on Wednesday at the sites in southern Mumbai.

“The terrorists have used automatic weapons and in some places grenades have been lobbed,” said AN Roy, police commissioner of Maharashtra state.

Local TV images showed blood-splattered streets, and bodies being taken into ambulances.

One eyewitness told the BBC he had seen a gunman opening fire in the Taj Mahal’s lobby.

“We all moved through the lobby in the opposite direction and another gunman then appeared towards where we were moving and he started firing immediately in our direction.”

One British tourist said she spent six hours barricaded in the Oberoi hotel.

BOMB ATTACKS IN INDIA IN 2008
30 October: Explosions kill at least 64 in north-eastern Assam
30 September: Blasts in western India kill at least seven
27 September: Bomb blasts kills one in Delhi
13 September: Five bomb blasts kill 18 in Delhi
26 July: At least 22 small bombs kill 49 in Ahmedabad
25 July: Seven bombs go off in Bangalore killing two people
13 May: Seven bomb hit markets and crowded streets in Jaipur killing 63

“There were about 20 or 30 people in each room. The doors were locked very quickly, the lights turned off, and everybody just lay very still on the floor,” she said.

Eyewitness reports suggest the attackers singled out British and American passport holders.

If the reports are true, our security correspondent says it implies an Islamist motive – attacks inspired or co-ordinated by al-Qaeda.

A claim of responsibility has been made by a previously unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen.

Our correspondent says it could be a hoax or assumed name for another group.

There has been a wave of bombings in Indian cities in recent months which has left scores of people dead.

The timing and symbolism of the latest attacks could not have been worse.

By choosing to target the richest district of India’s financial capital in such a brazen and effective manner, he says those behind the attacks have perhaps dealt the severest blow to date to the morale and self esteem of the Indian authorities.

The attacks have come amidst elections in several Indian states and exposes the governing coalition to the charge that it has failed to combat terror, our correspondent says.

Aerial map of Mumbai showing sites of shootings


Are you in the region? Have you witnessed the attacks? Send us your comments

August 14, 2008

Mumbai’s slum solution?

Mumbai’s slum solution?

Courtesy BBC

By Mukul Devichand
BBC Radio 4’s Crossing Continents

Dharavi

Dharavi is a bustling hive of activity and commerce

Mukesh Mehta wears a crisp shirt and tie as he picks his way past makeshift shacks and stinking open gutters in Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum.

Dharavi is a dense labyrinth of dirt roads in the centre of India’s biggest and most economically important city, Mumbai (Bombay).

Estimates of its population size vary but it is likely that up to a million people live in these crowded lanes.

But now the slum faces complete demolition under an audacious plan designed by Mr Mehta.

As a wealthy architect turned property tycoon, Mr Mehta makes an unlikely development visionary. A decade ago he became a government consultant after returning to Mumbai from his career designing bespoke mansions for rich clients in Long Island, New York.

His scheme is unique because it uses India’s surging private sector to develop slums, instead of relying on government funds or international aid. It is being closely watched as a potential blueprint for a slum-free future across the developing world.

But will it offer a fair deal to the urban poor?

Win-win solution

Mukesh Mehta

Mukesh Mehta says he hopes others make money from his plans

“I’m not ashamed or embarrassed that I’m going to make money out of it,” Mr Mehta told me late last year. “In fact I hope that others do too.”

I first met him in his own sea-view mansion flat, in a salubrious part of Mumbai worlds away from the tower blocks being built for Dharavi residents.

He explained that the urge to turn a profit is what drives the scheme forward.

Private developers are being asked to demolish the low-rise slum and re-house the residents in tower blocks on the same site, rather than moving them out of the city.

But Dharavi is right next to a prime office district, and is surrounded by three important railway lines. The companies can use the plum real estate left over after they’ve built tower blocks, to build lucrative shopping malls and office blocks for the middle classes.

The poor get a home in a block in a prime location, the companies make money and Mumbai’s residents get a posh new city quarter.

Theoretically at least, everyone wins.

‘Bombay Dreams’

But Mr Mehta is facing an avalanche of opposition from slum locals.

His visits to Dharavi are an exercise in diplomacy. I watch him press flesh and bat away questions as crowds of industrial workers confront him.

Although Mumbai’s transformation is being closely modelled on Shanghai, China’s glitzy commercial capital, India’s democratic system means the demands of the slum’s myriad opposition groups cannot be ignored.

Annapa Konchikor is an affable, portly Dharavi shopkeeper who wanted to show me why he opposes the plan. So he invited me to sleep over in his home in the heart of the slum.

Dharavi pottery

The entrepreneurial spirit of Dharavi can been seen everywhere

Late at night we strolled around his local lane, alive with a sea of human bodies and the whirr of industry.

In parts of Dharavi almost every shack doubles up as a small scale industrial unit, where the residents stitch garments, recycle rubbish, make pots or handicrafts, melt scrap metal, or do just about anything else to make money.

They are taking advantage of what Mumbai is famous for in India.

Bollywood films celebrate Mumbai as a city where even the poorest migrant can “make it” in the informal slum economy if they work hard enough.

Annapa told me that he fears this aspect of slum life will be lost after redevelopment.

Self-made man

“If the government were developing Dharavi for the people who have been living here, it would be OK,” Annapa told me.

Instead he suspects the planners real aim is to serve what he call’s Mumbai’s “hi-fi” groups – in other words the burgeoning middle class of white collar workers – in pushing the poor out of the city centre.

Annapa Konchickor

Annapa Konchikor worries about the prospects for the people of Dharavi

His own family were once snake charmers who migrated from south India.

Annapa was born in Dharavi and worked as a taxi driver and security guard before saving enough to open a shop in his slum shack.

Now he is a self-made man with four concrete rooms, an air conditioner and a grandchild he sends to boarding school.

His fear is that although each slum family will get a free flat of 269 square feet, the poorest locals will find it difficult to run small scale industries high up in concrete blocks.

Winners and losers

The next morning, he took me to a block where redevelopment had already happened.

The block had problems with running water and there was a pungent smell in the stairways. But despite the dire conditions, I found middle class families had snapped up almost all of the tiny apartments.

Highrise tower blocks being built for the residents of Dharavi

Block like this are being built to house the people of Dharavi

“We bought it from some lady in a slum area, she was given it by the government,” I was told by a girl in American-flavoured English in one of the flats.

Her father, the main bread winner, was not home – he lives and works in Switzerland.

It will be illegal at first for slum-dwellers to sell their free flats. But the supporters of the demolition plans point out that eventually if they do sell, the poor stand to make a sizeable profit, despite having illegally squatted on slum land for free.

Poor country

So far the political campaigns and litigation by the slum activists have kept the bulldozers away.

The lobbying has seen Mukesh Mehta’s plan altered in several ways that benefit the poor – allotting more square feet for the free flats, and allowing more families to apply for them.

These changes have gone some way towards pacifying the scheme’s opponents. The demolition is set to start soon.

But even if many of Dharavi’s current residents profit from the plan, it remains unclear whether the floods of migrants who still pour in from India’s countryside will find a place to live in the redeveloped Mumbai.

Despite its economic growth, India is still a country where hundreds of millions of people live below the bread line and for many families, moving to the big cities is the only option.

City planners seem to have accepted that building a world-class financial capital is more important than catering to this influx – although few are bold enough to say this openly.

“We firmly believe that this is likely to be the way not just for Dharavi, but for the rest of India’s slums and the world’s slums,” says Mukesh Mehta.

After all, he says, decades of aid and socialist planning have done little to remove slums. “Give me a better solution,” he demands. “Until then you might want to accept this one.”

Blog at WordPress.com.