| Flight of peace: Pigeons at the wreckage of a taxi destroyed in the blast at the Gateway of India. (Reuters)
Mumbai, Aug. 25: Blood lay at the gate to India, death rattled the body that feeds it.
Two blasts within five minutes of each other left 46 people dead in lunch-hour Mumbai, the explosion sites chosen with care by the attackers who set off car bombs, first at Zaveri Bazaar, the bullion market, and then in front of the Gateway of India, the symbol of welcome to foreign visitors.
The twin blasts, reminiscent of the serial explosions 10 years ago, ripped the sense of well-being that had begun to spread across the country from a reviving economy and relative calm in violence-ridden Kashmir.
A taxi blew up around 1.03 pm in crowded Zaveri Bazaar in front of the five-storeyed Navanidhan Building that houses commercial establishments. Most of the deaths occurred here.
The symbolism does not end there. The site of the blast is about 100 metres from the temple to Mumbadevi, the city’s reigning deity.
Gujarati businessmen dominate the bustling jewellery district, raising apprehensions that the blasts could be a reprisal for last year’s riots in the neighbouring state. Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi passed through Mumbai only yesterday.
In less than five minutes, a bomb in the boot of a taxi exploded in the parking lot near the Gateway, a kilometre from the city’s other temple — the Bombay Stock Exchange.
After days of explosive rise, the sensitive index that reflects market movement plunged by 180 points, but recovered later to cut the loss to 120 points and closed above 4000.
Witnesses said some balloon sellers, peddling their wares to tourists for whom the Gateway is Mumbai’s biggest attraction, were flung by the blast into a monsoon-whipped Arabian Sea that is separated from the road by a concrete and stone wall.
Hours after the blasts, nine detonators were found on railway tracks near the city. Several sleepers had been removed and placed across the tracks on a line being used by pilgrims headed to the Kumbh Mela.
If the extent of the blasts was less than the 1993 explosions when over 250 people died, the conspiracy was as diabolic.
No group has claimed responsibility but intelligence agencies in Delhi suspect the combined hands of the banned Students’ Islamic Movement of India and the Kashmir militant group, Lashkar-e-Toiba.
Police in Mumbai said the blasts, where a timer device was used as trigger, were a “local job”.
Police chief R.S. Sharma said: “We are aware of those who have attacked the city, but we can’t divulge any more information because we don’t want to jeopardise our investigations.” The driver of one of the taxis (MH02-R2007) that had the bomb has been taken into custody.
“There were legs and hands lying on top and inside my taxi. I had a miraculous escape,” said taxi driver Lal Sahib Singh, who was driving past Zaveri Bazaar when the blast occurred.
At the historic Gateway, built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911, around 15 parked cars lay in ruins, the landmark Taj Mahal Hotel on the other side shaken by the crack of shattering window panes.
Bellboys and hotel staff later collected shards in buckets as tourists inside cowered in fear.
Vijay Gupta, a witness, said he saw “five beggars and a small group of photographers chasing tourists die on the spot”.
“There was nothing we could do about those who were blown off the wall and into the sea,’’ Gupta, still in a daze, said.
The twin blasts cap a sequence of five explosions that started last December, taking 27 lives.
Sensing the panic, Maharashtra chief minister Sushil Kumar Shinde made an impassioned appeal to Mumbaikars to stay calm.
Shinde said: “The saboteurs have chosen a time when all the hotels are full and the economy is booming.”