The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Blast & business, hand in hand
- Face of family as terror in taxi

Mumbai, Aug. 26: Blasts yesterday, business today.

Ten years ago, Bombay had taken a few days to hoist itself back on its feet after a string of blasts killed over 250 people. There was little doubt Mumbai this time would mount its recovery sooner. And it did.

The morning after was greeted with a roaring surge on the stock market — ever the mirror of the city’s mood — though the toll in Monday’s twin explosions climbed to 52 and about 150 of the injured were still in hospitals.

But from the terror of yesterday emerged the face of a tomorrow Mumbai may find difficult to shake off as police learnt that a group posing as a family might have planted one of the bombs.

Shiv Narayan Pandey, a taxi driver, revealed that two men, a woman and a child had got off his vehicle at the Gateway of India for a walk minutes before it blew up. They had taken care to advise Pandey he should stretch his legs, a suggestion that saved the taxi driver’s life.

“This may be the crucial lead,” an investigator said.

Opposite the Gateway, at the Taj Mahal hotel, remains of the devastation had been quickly cleared. “Except for the remnant of one car, the rest have been removed…. We are back in business,” said a hotel official.

Nothing captured the spirit better than the Bombay Stock Exchange sensitive index, which grabbed back the gains it had lost after the blasts.

At Zaveri Bazaar, where the more devastating of the two explosions occurred, smashing commercial establishments and leaving a trail of torn limbs and blotches of blood of a war zone, business was bustling.

Navin Mehta, speaking for his fellow bullion merchants, said they had decided to be more vigilant. “Terrorism is an international phenomenon. Our friends in Tel Aviv (also a thriving diamond trading centre) also suffer like us,” he said.

The comparison with the Israeli capital — despite Delhi’s developing close ties with that country — is unlikely to please deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani or even Chhagan Bhujbal, Maharashtra’s deputy chief minister, who fought a verbal battle the day after the bloodbath.

Bhujbal said Mumbai was paying for the riots in Gujarat, a statement that a visiting Advani found important enough to respond to as he offered his own explanation, blaming Pakistan.

Amid calls for his scalp, Bhujbal said blasts had started occurring in Mumbai some time after the Gujarat riots and in most cases the targets were Gujarati-populated areas.

“I feel sad when they say that the blasts are happening due to Gujarat. It has nothing to do with Gujarat,’’ Advani replied.

“Our neighbour’s war of terrorism... is against the whole of India.”

Gujarat was on Bhujbal’s lips, but Pakistan was not on Advani’s lips, it was what he meant.

Mumbai was not counting its dead Gujaratis — eight of a family were killed at the Gateway while on a visit as tourists — or dead Bengalis, possibly an equal number fell victim to the explosion at Zaveri Bazaar. It was looking at the blasts as an attack on its right to make a living.

“My family has been here for four generations. We have a business of readymade garments. We know why the bomb was set off here. They want to scare us,” said Vinod Dwivecha at Zaveri Bazaar. “They want us to go from here. But we won’t go.”

There is one other thing. Despite a faint stirring of fear yesterday about a reprisal, the explosions have not divided the city along communal lines.

Salimullah Mia, a 72-year-old vendor of paan and beedi, said: “Earlier (he meant the 1992 riots in which he lost a brother), I would have run.… I won’t do that any more.”

But after Pandey’s revelation about a group travelling as a family placing the bomb in his taxi, Mumbai does not quite know who to run from.

The 55-year-old taxi driver told the police the group put a bag in the boot before getting off.

Moments later, the car exploded, killing 12 on the spot. The family had disappeared.

According to the police, Pandey, who lives in the suburb of Kandivli, said the family had been sightseeing for the previous two days.

A forensic report suggested that the explosives were of “extremely high intensity”. Maharashtra forensic lab director Rukmini Krishnamurthy said: “It was very unlike the earlier blasts.’’

The use of a group masquerading as a family to plant the bomb is also very unlike past incidents, investigators in Delhi said. It is also very like the established pattern of attacks in Tel Aviv and in that region.

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