- Vijay PrashadChair of South Asian History and Director of International Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut and a regular contributor to CounterPunch and Frontline India. His latest book is The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World. His article on the Mumbai attacks comes out in CounterPunch today.
- Biju MathewNew York City-based activist with the Campaign to Stop Funding Hate and the Coalition Against Genocide. He is a co-founder of the New York Taxi Worker Alliance and is the author of Taxi! Cabs and Capitalism in New York City. His latest article is published in samarmagazine.org. It’s called “As the Fires Die: The Terror of the Aftermath.”
- Tariq Aliveteran journalist, commentator and activist. He was born in Lahore, Pakistan and lives in London. He has written over a dozen books and is on the editorial board of the New Left Review. His latest book is called The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power.
- Teesta SetalvadAward-winning activist and journalist from Mumbai. She is the co-editor of the magazine Communalism Combat, which she co-founded in 1993 after sectarian violence in the city. She is one of the leading figures fighting for justice for the victims of the anti-Muslim massacres in Gujarat in 2002. She also heads the Mumbai-based NGO called Citizens for Peace and Justice.
We host a roundtable discussion on the attacks in Mumbai, India’s financial and entertainment capital, that has left nearly 200 people dead and hundreds wounded. Indian officials claim that as few as ten gunmen coordinated attacks that began late Wednesday night on multiple targets, including a crowded railway station, two luxury hotels, a popular cafe, a Jewish center, a hospital, and a movie theater. India’s top domestic security official, the Home Minister Shivraj Patil, resigned Sunday over his failure to contain the attacks. The State Chief Minister and his deputy have also offered to quit. We speak with South Asian history professor Vijay Prashad, New York City-based activist Biju Mathew, veteran journalist and commentator Tariq Ali, and award-winning activist and journalist from Mumbai Teesta Setalvad. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: We begin with last week’s terror attacks and the three-day siege of Mumbai, India’s main financial and entertainment capital, that has left nearly 200 people dead and hundreds wounded. Indian officials claim that as few as ten gunmen coordinated attacks that began late Wednesday night on multiple targets, including a crowded railway station, two luxury hotels, a popular cafe, a Jewish center, a hospital, and a movie theater.
India’s top domestic security official, the Home Minister Shivraj Patil, resigned Sunday over his failure to contain the attacks, which were the latest in a string of attacks and bombings in various Indian cities over the past year. The State Chief Minister and his deputy have also offered to quit. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appointed the Finance Minister to fill nation’s top security post. Prime Minister Singh, who oversaw India’s economic liberalization in 1991, has now taken over the Finance Ministry himself.
But even as Mumbai and the world mourn all those killed in the attacks, including some two dozen international visitors, criticisms about India’s security lapses continue to pour in. Some have accused the government of being “soft on terror.” Arun Jaitley, a senior member of India’s opposition party known as the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, called on India to follow the model of the United States after September 11, 2001.
ARUN JAITLEY: We must follow the example of what United States did after 9/11. We are more vulnerable than them, and therefore we must be a tough state and not a soft state. Our intelligence network, our security response, our legal framework all need an overhaul and all need a strengthening. When all of them see the political establishment is weak on terrorism, each one of them collapses. And that’s where the basic change is required.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Meanwhile, tensions are rising between India and Pakistan over Pakistan’s alleged role in the attacks. A previously unknown Indian group called the Deccan Mujahideen claimed responsibility for the attack, but the only gunman who was captured alive and is being interrogated by Indian security officials is a Pakistanis citizen. He has reportedly claimed the attacks were coordinated by the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba, a banned Islamist group that has conducted attacks in Indian-administered Kashmir and elsewhere. Indian officials have pointed fingers at Pakistan’s role. But Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who was visiting India last week, insisted that allegations about Pakistan’s involvement are just based on suspicions and not evidence.
SHAH MEHMOOD QURESHI: Indian leadership has not blamed the government of Pakistan. Please be very clear on that. They are suspecting — at this stage, suspecting — perhaps groups or organizations that could have presence here to this act. What we have said is, if they have information, if they have evidence, they should share it with us. Any entity or group involved in this ghastly act, the government of Pakistan will proceed against it.
AMY GOODMAN: US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be visiting New Delhi on Wednesday in attempt to diffuse tensions between India and Pakistan. Meanwhile, Indian Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon is in Washington, D.C. today to brief President-elect Obama’s transition team about the situation. The US ambassador to India, David Mulford, pledged US support to India after meeting with Foreign Secretary Menon this weekend.
DAVID MULFORD: I’d like to express condolences to the people of India from President Bush, President-elect Obama, and from the people of the United States for this terrible terrorist attack, which has taken place in Mumbai. We are deeply sympathetic. Our sympathies go to the families of those victims. And, of course, the majority of victims were Indians. But for the first time, we have seen targeting of Westerners, including Americans. Until now, six Americans have been killed. And President Bush has directed us to offer cooperation to the Indian authorities in any way that we can. We will be doing that. The United States is very skilled in this field. We are, as you know, engaged in a global war on terror.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined right now by a roundtable of guests. In Chicopee, Massachusetts, by Vijay Prashad — he is chair of South Asian History and director of International Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. His latest book is called The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World. His article on the Mumbai attacks comes out in CounterPunch today.
Veteran Pakistani journalist, commentator, author, Tariq Ali joins us on the phone from London. His book is called The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power. His article, “The Assault on Mumbai,” was published in CounterPunch last week.
And we’re joined here in our firehouse studio by the New York-based activist Biju Mathew. He is with the Campaign to Stop Funding Hate and the Coalition Against Genocide, a co-founder of the New York Taxi Worker Alliance. His piece appeared in samarmagazine.org. It’s called “As the Fires Die: The Terror of the Aftermath.”
Let’s start with Vijay Prashad. Talk about what you understand happened and why this is being called India’s 9/11.
VIJAY PRASHAD: Good morning, Amy.
It’s very unclear why this happened. And I think we would be speculating if we tried to be, you know, completely without contradictions and without any sort of unease when saying exactly what happened.
But why this is called Mumbai’s 9/11 is another question. Right when this was occurring, the relationship between 9/11 and Mumbai began to be made by the media. And, you know, it’s become something of a cliché now. Anytime there’s any attack, they start to say this is our 9/11. You know, whether it’s the attack in London, whether it’s the attack in Indonesia, everybody claims a terrorist attack now as their 9/11.
And there’s something ominous about this, because it means that the state has to then follow the playbook laid out by the Bush administration right after it experienced, of course, its 9/11, which is to say that you then go and start a war against an adversary that you claim did the attack, and simultaneously you begin to create a security apparatus inside your state to restrict the civil liberties of all people who live within that country.
So 9/11, or branding something as 9/11, has come to have these two aspects: one, go to war against somebody without any kind of full police investigation that’s decisively shown us who has done the act — so, one, a foreign war; and secondly, what you might even consider to be a war against your own population, where you start to restrict civil liberties, far in excess of anything necessary, and, of course, always fighting the last terrorist attack. So you build up this enormous apparatus of restrictions, which is dealing with the previous attack against your population and not trying to forecast the safety of the population into the near future. And that is why the media started to talk about Mumbai’s 9/11.
The third reason is that the media had not really called any of the other attacks in Mumbai — and there have been many since 1992 — 9/11, precisely because most of those attacks had taken place in areas which afflicted the working poor, the working-class and middle-class people. This attack, for the first time, targeted places of the top elite — very expensive hotels, leading restaurants — and this, therefore, brought these kind of assaults into the bedrooms, into the restaurants of the elite, and they found then that this is their 9/11. The other attacks were not called 9/11. They were the kind of normal condition of suffering borne by ordinary people in places like Bombay. So for these three reasons, the media ratcheted up the rhetoric about this being Mumbai’s 9/11.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Vijay Prashad, also the criticism of the intelligence services and law enforcement as having failed in this situation, whereas you may not have gotten that kind of criticism in past terrorist attacks. As you say, there’s been a long history of them in India.
VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, it’s true to some extent that there are two failures that are quite remarkable. One, my sister used to work at the Oberoi in guest relations, the Oberoi at Nariman Point. Now, it’s true that the emergency response in a city like Mumbai is abysmal. This was found, of course, by United — by New York after 9/11. The emergency response hadn’t been properly considered. You know, how do you go after when there is so many people hurt? Do you have enough ambulatory services? Do you have enough ability to conduct a police operation when people are firing in public areas? So the emergency services have been shown to be quite abysmal, which is why the resignations have occurred.
Intelligence — well, look, it was earlier in this year that the intelligence agencies reported to the government of India, saying that it is likely that groups are going to come from the water. There were reports of training by groups trying to do some kind of ambulatory — you know, waterborne attack on the Indian soil. So, there have been reports from the intelligence service. But the government, of course, didn’t know how to act on this. I mean, some of this is a problem of scale. The coastline is vast. Consider those pirate ships off the Somali waters. You know, you have an amazing amount of tankers going past Somalia. We know that pirates operate there. It’s impossible to stop them. To some extent, there’s an over-exaggeration about a failure of intelligence. Intelligence services recognized that something was up, but it’s very complicated to stop an attack when it comes. Similarly, in the United States, it was known that there might be an attack sometime in the fall of 2001. How to predict the actual attack, well, that’s another question.
But certainly, on the emergency services side, there has been a grievous failure. There have been a cutback in the kind of simple services for cities —- ambulances, you know, simple policing for emergency times. These have been cut back as a result of the kind of neoliberal policies that have slashed the social services in cities. So, yes, there are -—
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Vijay Prashad, we have to break, but we’ll come back to this discussion. Vijay Prashad is the chair of the South Asian History Department at Trinity College and director of International Studies there. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, Democracynow.org, the War and Peace Report, as we talk about what’s happening and has happened in Mumbai, the terrible massacre that took place, close to 200 people killed, hundreds more injured. It went on for days. This is now the aftermath. Vijay Prashad with us in Chicopee, Massachusetts. He teaches at Trinity College. Tariq Ali, on with us, a Pakistani British commentator, author, on the line with us from London. And Vijay — well, Vijay Prashad and Biju Mathew, here in New York with the Campaign to Stop Funding Hate.
You wrote a very interesting piece, Biju, talking about the 9/11 of India and talking about the anti-terror laws. Talk about POTA, what that is.
BIJU MATHEW: The Prevention of Terrorism Act, which was the, quote-unquote, “equivalent to the PATRIOT Act” here, essentially was something that was repealed by this government immediately after it took power. And the repealing of this Prevention of Terrorism Act came on the heels of years of protest by civil rights groups and human rights groups and mass movements in India saying that this was a draconian law, a law that primarily — its primary purpose, in the end, was one of harassing people, denying them basic legal access, etc. And so, I mean, the movement against POTA had built up very, very significantly by 2004, and the government was forced to repeal it, because it came, again, on — the government itself came to power, in a certain sense, on the backs of a certain amount of unrest within the people on these kinds of issues.
Now, POTA itself has a long history. India has had several such draconian laws which have been brought in and then, because of public pressure, the Indian government has been forced to withdraw it. The earliest of it goes back to the mid-’70s with the Prime Minister Mrs. Gandhi declaring emergency there and something called the Maintenance of Internal Security Act. So it has a long history, and each time the public has risen up against it, forced the government to withdraw the law.
Now, POTA itself wasn’t withdrawn fully in the sense that some of the cases booked under POTA still continue to be prosecuted. But the point simply is that, I think after the fall of POTA at the federal level, there has been efforts by states to bring in equivalent laws at the state level. Some states have succeeded. The state of Chhattisgarh, for instance, which has right now one of the worst human rights records, one of the worst civil rights records, has its own special security act right now. So, we’re looking at a context where — I mean, the state has consistently failed at justifying and keeping in place any kind of draconian law and now is trying all sorts of underhand means of getting it back on.
And what this current situation does is it allows for the state, a particular combination of the center and the right, to once again create a discourse of a necessity for a Prevention of Terrorism Act or something equivalent, without even — of course, what is left unexamined there is the abysmal record of any such law in prosecuting anybody who’s got anything to do with anything wrong. I mean, here in the United States, with the PATRIOT Act, we know the entire history of it by now: very, very, very few convictions, and the average length of the conviction is around eleven months, which kind of points to how miserable it is in terms of finding anybody who’s got anything to do with real terror, right? And, you know, that’s, I think, you know, what — in India right now, I think there will be a real push to, quote-unquote, “bring something back” like this, and I think the big task right now is to ensure that that doesn’t happen. And the Indian public has a good record of standing up against this kind of stuff.
JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to bring in from London Tariq Ali, a Pakistani and English journalist. Tariq, one of the groups that’s come to the fore immediately, the only person captured alive, said he was a member of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a guerrilla group. Could you talk about who they are and what their connection is to Pakistan and to Kashmir?
TARIQ ALI: Well, this is a well-known organization, which was set up initially by the Inter-Services Intelligence during the first Afghan war against the Russians and later became very active in infiltrating jihadis into Kashmir. Over recent years, however, during the Musharraf period, funding was removed from them, the ISI was supposedly said to have no contact with them at all, and they became more or less an independent, freelance organization.
Now, the question is this: if they were involved in this business — and it’s still a big “if,” but if they were, were they acting on their own? Were they acting on behalf of rogue elements within Pakistani intelligence? How did they carry out this operation without anyone in Pakistan knowing about it? These are the interesting questions. And we will see what happens on this front, whether the truth is revealed, if indeed, they were involved in it.
What I am fairly convinced about is that no official Pakistani group, either the army or the Pakistani government, could have been involved in this, because it’s just crazy, irrational and provocative. They are heavily involved in a war on the North-West Frontier, dealing with the spillage from the Afghan war. For them to provoke India in this way is just unthinkable. And I don’t think some of the wilder charges being made in the Indian press are accurate, because all they’re intended to do — and I mean, Vijay is absolutely right about using the 9/11 model, because the 9/11 model leads to war and occupying of other countries. And there is a lobby in India which is suggesting that Pakistan be taught a lesson, and I think this would be foolish, because these are nuclear states, and any new war would lead to disaster. But tensions are mounting.
The interesting thing is this, that in recent months, the new president of Pakistan, Zardari, had made overtures to India, some of which were quite sensible. But did he consult the Pakistani military before making them? And if he didn’t, it was very unwise, because making a serious overture to India without consulting the army in Pakistan is just foolish and counterproductive. So I think the impact of this within Pakistan could be quite serious, that there will be a fight now between the military and the politicians again, accusing the politicians of having helped provoke this situation, if indeed any Pakistani group is involved.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And Tariq, what about the allegations that — so far unconfirmed — that there were British Muslims involved in the attacks? How is that playing out in England?
TARIQ ALI: Well, it’s being denied very strongly in Britain by the British government and the intelligence agencies, saying there’s absolutely no proof of this at all. So I think that particular one has died down.
Now, in the point I would make about this whole business, which is, of course, ghastly, terrible — we can use whatever words we want to use about it, but I think it should be stated that if images were shown of the killings going on in Afghanistan or in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier province as a result of state terrorism carried out by the United States and its allies or in Iraq — let’s imagine that every single atrocity being committed in Iraq and Afghanistan were broadcast like this by the world media. The effect would be electric. But it isn’t. So, we see these images, horrific though they are from Mumbai, and there’s immediately an overreaction, and we don’t contextualize what is going on in the world as a whole. And that, I think, can be dangerous.
I mean, there have been reports now by William Dalrymple and others in the British press describing an atrocity which took place in a Kashmiri hospital after a peaceful demonstration. When demonstrators were taken into a hospital, the Indian security burst in, threw doctors aside, dragged patients out, insulted nurses, and behaved like colonizing armies do. Now, this doesn’t go down well either, in Kashmir or the rest of India.
So, it’s — one has to sort of keep contextualizing what the situation in India is. It’s not a country which has been at peace with itself, as my other two colleagues have already said. There have been terrorist attacks. There is turbulence in the Indian countryside. There are growing disparities of wealth. This nonsense that the neoliberal system was working has been exposed for the farce it is. So, one has to see that, too, in discussing what is going on and not get over-concentrated on this atrocity, appalling though it is.
AMY GOODMAN: Talking about how high the stakes are, just going back to October 9th, President Bush signing legislation to lift a three-decade ban on nuclear trade with India, the deal allowing India to expand its nuclear power industry without requiring it to sign on to the Non-Proliferation Treaty as other countries have to, critics saying that the deal encourages nuclear production worldwide, because it effectively rewards India for developing nukes outside the treaty.
Then you also have the news that we had in August, US saying that Pakistani ISI, the intelligence service of Pakistan, linked to the deadly Kabul bombing. A US intelligence agency is accusing Pakistan’s powerful spy service of helping plan last month’s deadly bombing at the Indian embassy in Afghanistan, which killed fifty-four people, the conclusion based partly on intercepted communications between officers from Pakistan’s ISI and the militants who carried out the attack in Kabul. Your response, Tariq Ali?
TARIQ ALI: Well, I think that there is very little doubt that the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul was carried out with the collusion of rogue elements within the ISI stationed in the tribal areas of Pakistan. I think that privately the Pakistani government and military have admitted this to the United States, saying it was a decision taken by a single rogue officer, who has been disciplined and dealt with, and that it will not be repeated again.
So there’s, I think, very little doubt of the fact that the bombing of the Indian embassy, which was always a mystery why the Afghans, in particular, would bomb it. I think that was an action approved by the Pakistani ISI, no doubt about that. But from that, Amy, it would be wrong to conclude that this, too, was that, because the ISI has been brought — especially since the Kabul bombing, but even before that, they’ve been cleaning out — cleaning it out. And it is under the strict control of the military top brass now in Pakistan. And I’m, therefore, dubious about rogue elements anymore, because if the ISI does something like the Mumbai things, it would have to be a decision from the military tops, and I just don’t believe that they did it.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring a fourth guest into this conversation: Teesta Setalvad. She’s an award-winning activist, journalist from Mumbai, co-editor of the magazine Communalism Combat. She heads the Mumbai-based NGO called Citizens for Peace and Justice. We’re talking to her in Delhi, but she was in Mumbai when the attacks took place.
Teesta, start off by describing the scene, how you came to understand what was happening, what was happening in Mumbai, Bombay.
TEESTA SETALVAD: Well, all of us were sort of hit by it at about half past 10:00 that night, though it had started happening almost forty minutes earlier. And it was horrific, because I think what people are today talking about is the Taj and the Oberoi, but where it actually started with was a working person’s railway terminus, the Victoria Terminus or the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus station. And that is where the kind of shootout began. And ironically enough, the only CCTV images that we have of the persons who committed the act are from the railway station. The private hotels, the five-star hotels had not even got CCTVs on. And you had, I think, more than at least a hundred people being killed there.
And from there, the attackers moved to an adjacent road, where there’s a public hospital called the Cama Hospital. And they shot dead a few people on the streets, and then they moved inside the hospital and threatened a few people, which is when the police contingent of some our best policemen arrived there, and that is where two of them were tragically shot. Now, these policemen had first gone to The Taj, actually, and then gone to the government headquarters at the Mantralaya, which is near Nariman Point, before they were called to this spot. And after that, as we know, one of the survivors in the policemen’s vehicle showed a lot of presence of mind, managed to call the control room, which is finally why one of them is nabbed and alive. Otherwise, we may have not had a single of them alive today.
Then, of course, the horror of the next two-and-a-half days, with the television cameras just relentlessly taping the whole incident, hooking us all onto that chief two-and-a-half days, and the other horror of what happened in The Taj and [inaudible] and the Oberoi. And now, the political fallout is what we are seeing today.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Teesta, the reports that as few as ten gunmen were involved, given the extent of the carnage and the number of sites that were hit, what’s your sense of that?
TEESTA SETALVAD: No, I’m sorry, I didn’t get you on that. I’m sorry.
JUAN GONZALEZ: I said that the reports that we’ve gotten here, that there were as few as ten attackers involved in these attacks.
TEESTA SETALVAD: Yeah, I think these are confusing figures.
JUAN GONZALEZ: You’re saying these are confusing figures?
TEESTA SETALVAD: Yes. The first day we were told that there were twenty people who came. Now we are told that there are ten. And frankly, I think we need to be able to sit down very, very rationally and put together all the different versions as they come in in different points of time, because what we’ve had is extensive media reports, 24/7, quoting different official sources. But the official version is what we’re looking for, and we started getting that from the second day, naturally from the army and the NSG commanders. But I think there has been some difference of opinion between that and the police, so we just have to wait for the final version to come out.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And could you tell us about the Intelligence chief who was killed early on in the fighting? You were very knowledgeable about his activities?
TEESTA SETALVAD: Yeah, actually, he was not the intelligence; he was the anti-terrorism squad chief, a man called Hemant Karkare, who had, in fact, been a lot in the news over the past three or four months, first for his — he’s known, by the way, to be kind of one of those rare breed in the Indian police, an extremely honest and straightforward policeman who only answers to the Indian constitution and not to his political bosses, whichever ideology they come from. And he’s been responsible both for the blast investigation of the Ahmedabad blast and thereafter involved in the Malegaon blast investigation. And he had come into very, very vicious attacks over the matter from the Hindu right-wing parties who had reduced themselves to very, very pathetic levels of slander against him. So, in fact, just a couple of days before he was shot dead, he was, in fact, very, very distressed about this attack from this political quarter.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Prashad, if you could elaborate on what Teesta was just talking about, on the killing of the anti-terrorism police chief, the context? I think people in this country don’t understand the conflict between Hindus and Muslims in India, what this means, what the extreme right-wing Hindu party and parties are in India, and also what this means for elections that are just taking place now in India.
VIJAY PRASHAD: You know, there’s a broad sociological story that starts in the 1970s. Until the 1970s, parties that identified themselves as religious parties pretty much had very, very low ability to pull people out to vote for them. In the 1970s, when the Indian government shifted its ability to provide social welfare, to provide agricultural credit to the vast bulk of the people, essentially when it broke down the Nehruvian part of social development, at that point, to gain legitimacy, even the Congress Party, which was Nehru’s party, started to bring in religious forms of mobilization to gain legitimacy, but they were outflanked on the right by the Hindu party, particularly the Bharatiya Janata Party, which in the 1980s took off at an unimaginable pace. It created this family of organizations. In a way, it outsourced its terror to groups such as the Bajrang Dal and, most recently, this group that committed, perhaps, the blast in Malegaon, a town northeast of Mumbai, in 2006. The group is called Abhinhav Bharat.
So, these groups all across the country have been committing atrocities, mainly against Muslim populations, but not only, also against Christians, also against people who in India are known as tribals and others. So there has been this growth of the kind of Hindu politics, in a way, because the state has been incapable of providing an agenda for the social development, the complete development, of the Indian population.
And, of course, in reaction to this, you’ve seen the growth of Muslim politics, of resentment and anger. One of the groups that was formed in the 1970s was known as SIMI, the Student Islamic Movement of India, at that time inspired by the Iranian Revolution, by the Islamic Revolution. But later, the resentment grows, and many groups then will come out of there. Young people, seeing no future, are turning to hatred and bitterness. And what I find is, for them, the politics of the present isn’t often future-looking; it’s backward-looking. They look to the past, to resentment, to revenge, to rage.
And there are Hindu forms of terror that have developed, which are being met by groups that are, you know, Muslim forms, etc., and this is a soup that is very, very dangerous. And now, of course, the Hindu forms of terror have a political party, which is the one that is breathing fire into the ear of the current government, saying, you know, we need a forward policy against Pakistan.
So, you know, one mustn’t narrow this down to the Mumbai event currently, but broaden the focus and see how there has been this sociological shift from a politics of, you might consider, social democracy to a politics of backward-looking hatred against other people, when you can’t provide food, shelter, conviviality to them.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And Biju Mathew, I’d like to ask you, in terms of — there’s been — the focus on this is that possibly Muslim Pakistanis were involved, related to Kashmir, yet they targeted, as well, Americans, British and Israelis who were in Mumbai. Your reaction to that, to hearing that they were targeting particular nationalities?
BIJU MATHEW: I think, you know, the targeting of particular nationalities — see, what I choose to believe from the reports that I’ve heard is what comes out as eyewitness reports — that is, you know, ordinary people, people — when I say “ordinary people,” it could be some rich folks sitting in The Taj, but people who’ve come out, posted things on blogs, etc. That’s what I prefer to believe. Right?
I do not believe the state version of most of this, what’s going on right now. For instance, I mean even this one gunman who’s supposedly been captured. I just want to add to what Tariq just said, which is to say, I mean, they claim — he’s singing like a bird suddenly. And, you know, I mean, he says he’s from a town called — he’s from a place called Faridkot in Pakistan. The Dawn, a Pakistani newspaper, just published a report wherein they identified three Faridkots in all of Pakistan, went around to all three Faridkots, tried to dig to find out whether there was anybody, any family with this person’s name in there, and came back and said no. I mean, the point is that we don’t know who’s singing what. I mean, I can’t even say for sure whether this guy, who they claim is one of the gunmen, has actually been somebody who was picked up from there. The Indian state has a terrible record in terms of who’s picked up and who’s produced for a crime, right?
Now, coming to — so, the reason why I do give some credence to the fact that there was actually targeting of British citizens, American citizens — I didn’t hear the Israeli part, but it’s very possible — is that, I mean, we know that this group is a terror group, which is coming out of a certain set of politics of Islam versus the West, I mean, a particular kind of Islamocentric politics. And so, in that context, I can understand it, because it’s a perfectly positioned target. That area of Bombay, the downtown area, is the one that’s quote-unquote “full of foreigners,” and so it’s a prime target, therefore, if one is looking for foreigners. But in the end, the foreigners don’t matter, because — I mean, it sends a particular message to the West, yes, but at the same time we must realize that out of the 170, 190 people dead, most of them are Indians, and the people in India are going to face the long-term consequences of this.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain who Sonal Shah is, Obama’s pick for the transition team around technology innovation and government reform, global development initiatives?
BIJU MATHEW: Sonal Shah is a second-generation South Asian American, Indian American, who has just been picked, as you said, by the Obama team as part of the transition team. There has been a severe controversy in the United States around her choice of even being on the transition team, and the primary reason is because she has two different lives. One life is as a liberal part of the whole Podesta establishment, etc., of the Democratic Party, and the other, which is still now unknown in the broader American public sphere, is that she has significant connections to the Hindu right wing, which Teesta, for instance, has referred to, etc.
AMY GOODMAN: She or her family?
BIJU MATHEW: She and her family. I’m not talking about her family yet, but I will come to that. She, herself — there’s documentary evidence that she served on the governing council of an organization called the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America, which is the kind of the sister organization for the Hindu right-wing nationalists, a violent organization back in India, here in the United States, from the period 1998 to 2001.
She then went on to coordinate the national — became a national coordinator for the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America for the earthquake relief operations in 2001. And we know that the funds generated from there were used in an extremely discriminatory fashion back in India, wherein villages being reconstructed after the earthquake were broken up into Hindu villages and Muslim villages, where earlier they were integrated villages, lower-caste villages and upper-caste villages, where earlier there were integrated villages. So, she has had a record for a certain period of time that’s very easily traceable.
AMY GOODMAN: She has issued a statement and said her, quote, “personal politics have nothing in common with the views espoused by the [Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh], or any such organization,” that she’s “always condemned any politics of division, of ethnic or religious hatred, of violence and intimidation as a political tool.”
BIJU MATHEW: Mm-hmm. I mean, that may be true, but when she says something like — I mean, if that statement had been preceded by a line which says that — which said that “I had participated in this organization,” etc., etc., etc., then one would say, “OK, maybe there is a particular way in which we can read it. We can give this person a second chance,” etc., etc. But to obfuscate the fact that she’s had significant involvement with this group in the past is — immediately puts the needle of doubt back on again, especially because the first statement wasn’t issued by her. The first statement was issued by her family, which came out and said that the family, as a whole, didn’t ever have anything to do with this politics. I mean, in other words, the family — and she, herself, defended her family, coming out and saying that her family, again, has nothing to do with these politics, that they’re only involved with religious and cultural organizations, whereas her father has been out on election campaigns for the Hindu right-wing party. I mean, when Modi, “the butcher of Gujarat,” came to the United States the last time, the time before he was denied a visa, he actually stayed with them. Right? I mean, so that’s the point. The point is very simply that, you know, her statement is a good statement, but I think it’s really important to note that even within that good statement there’s a fair amount of obfuscation going on.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there. I want to thank you, Biju Mathew, a New York-based activist with the Campaign to Stop Funding Hate and with the Coalition Against Genocide. I want to thank Tariq Ali for joining us from London and also to Professor Vijay Prashad, chair of South Asian History and director of International Studies at Trinity College. Thanks also to Teesta Setalvad, who joined us from Delhi, was in Mumbai when the attacks took place.