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26/11: Constructing A Timeline

Bibhu Prasad Routray

By Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark
Penguin Books, Delhi, 2013, pp. xix 319, Rs. 499.00


The title of the book suggests that it is only a narrative on the attack on Taj Hotel, one of the several targets during the three-day long Mumbai terrorist attacks in November 2008. And yet, The Siege tells a full story of the terrorist ‘Operation Bombay’, almost. In a never before narrative on the ‘mother of all terrorist attacks’ on the Indian soil, and a wonderful exhibition of the art of story telling, the book reconstructs the prelude to the attack, the attack per se and the experience thereafter.   The single most important point that The Siege makes is that the attacks were preventable, both at their points of impact, i.e., the attack sites, but also at the points of their origin. It also underlines that the magnitude of human fatalities could have been far more catastrophic had the original objectives of the terrorists, to ‘convert the attack into a hostage situation’ and ‘burn down the hotel completely’, not been foiled by isolated acts of bravery.   The book is about a huge range of people—about the elite who could afford US$ 5000 a night to stay in the premium suite at the Taj and also about the flower decorators who earned a paltry Rupees 6000 a month. It is about a rude food critic who got asphyxiated in her super luxury room and also about the hotel manager, who survived, but lost his wife and children. It is about the Members of Parliament (MP) who would drink to the brim in the five star hotel and would evade paying up. It is also about a father who re-entered the hotel to rescue his daughter only to embrace death. It is about negligence, corruption, and selfishness. It is also about personal courage and selfless sacrifice.   The book terms the response to the Mumbai attack a ‘triumph of men over machinery’. It was also, as a senior police official mentions, ‘a failure of imagination on the part of the police and intelligence agencies’. The book reiterates that gross intelligence and security lapses enabled the attack to happen in the first place. Intelligence that the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) was trying to carry out an audacious sea-borne attack on Mumbai in general and five-star hotels like the Taj and Trident in particular was available years before the attack. Moles within the LeT as well as key witnesses such as a wife of David Headley had relayed, ...

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