27 August 2003
India's commercial capital, Bombay (Mombai), is back on its feet after two deadly blasts rocked the city on Monday, killing at least 50 people and injuring more than 150 others.
The two bombs that hit Bombay on Monday were the latest and most devastating in a string of explosions that have rocked the city since last December.
Five earlier attacks killed 16 people and injured scores of others.
The bombings have targeted India's main commercial city after 10 peaceful years. In 1993, a series of bombs ripped through Bombay, killing more than 250 people.
Those blasts were believed to be retaliation for the killings of Muslims in riots that erupted after a Hindu mob tore down a 16th-century mosque in northern India in 1992. The mob said the mosque stood on a Hindu holy site.
In the latest attacks, authorities are pointing a finger at a banned Islamic student group in India, which they say gets support from Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani group waging an armed insurgency in Indian Kashmir.
The Lashkar-e-Taiba is a State Department-designated terrorist organization. It has been blamed for several attacks outside Kashmir, including one on the Indian Parliament in New Delhi in 2001.
The Students Islamic Movement of India is a relatively unknown group that aims to forge a Muslim identity among students and check the rise of Hindu fundamentalism.
Maharashtra's chief minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde, called Monday's attacks an effort to shatter the peace and economic growth of the state's capital city.
Many political analysts agree. Subhash Kashyap, at New Delhi's independent Center for Policy Research, says Bombay is a crowded, bustling city, making it a "soft target" for militants.
"Bombay, it is called the financial capital of India. It is like New York," he said. "Bombay is likely to have the maximum impact value, and maximum effect on any effort to destabilize the economy."
There are conflicting theories on the motivation behind the blasts.
Maharashtra state officials are linking the recent attacks to a wave of religious violence that swept neighboring Gujarat state last year. More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in Hindu-Muslim riots.
Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujpal points out that the jewelry market in Bombay, where one of the bombs exploded Monday, is a Gujarati-dominated area.
But the federal government is making a link to Pakistan, which it accuses of supporting and funding Islamic militant groups that target India.
India has stopped short of blaming Islamabad directly for the latest blasts, but Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani has accused Pakistan of waging a war of terrorism against India. Pakistan has dismissed the remarks as "irresponsible" and has denied aiding terrorists and insurgents in India.
Independent political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan says whatever the motive, there is little doubt that extremist groups are active in Bombay and could be mixing with the city's thriving criminal underworld.
"The immediate context includes various extremist groups of different hues gaining ground, but what must be emphasized is that there are elements of the underworld, criminal elements who have the expertise to carry out such attacks, who are becoming politicized and radicalized in a very dangerous reaction," explained Mr. Rangarajan.
Despite the devastation of the blasts, which killed more than 50 people, Bombay has displayed its usual resilience in bouncing back to normal life. Stock markets, which crashed when the blasts shook the city, recovered within a day. The city's 16 million residents are nervous, but say it is business as usual.
Analyst Rangarajan, says the recent blasts did not create a climate of fear in the city.
"Bombay has a long history of people of different faiths coexisting," he reminded. "One good thing, there has been absolutely no talk of retribution. People are simply trying to get the city back on its feet."
But several thousand people marched in Bombay to protest the bombs. The peaceful demonstration was organized by Hindu-nationalist parties.
The attacks have heightened security concerns throughout the country. The tight security ordered in Bombay after the Monday's blasts will remain in place for several days as an important religious festival gets underway.
Gujarat state, as well as the capital New Delhi, are also likely to remain on a state of alert for several days.