(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
December 07, 2008
I Thought This Would Be My Last Day, But Was Not Scared
CPI(M) MP Recounts his experiences in Taj Hotel
N N Krishna Das, CPI(M) Member of Parliament from Lok Sabha was in the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai on November 26, 2008 in connection with a Parliamentary Committee meeting on Sub Ordinate legislation. G Mamatha of People’s Democracy spoke to him about his experiences on that fateful night. The following is the text of the interview.
Q: Where were you in the Taj Hotel, when the terror struck?
A: There was a parliamentary committee meeting scheduled on November 27, 2008 in Mumbai. I, as the chairman of the committee, along with three other members and five officers of the Lok Sabha Secretariat reached Mumbai a day ahead at 6.30 pm in the evening for prior preparations of the meeting. At around 9 pm we were called to the ground floor for dinner. We were at Shamiana restaurant, in the old, Heritage part of the building. At around 9.30, we started having dinner. There were about 25 people, mostly foreigners in the restaurant at that point of time. Suddenly there was a huge sound, and the foreigners ducked themselves under tables. We thought it was the sound of burning of fire crackers as there was a marriage ceremony and it is natural to burst crackers during marriages in our country. We thought that as the foreigners were unaware of this custom, they might have assumed this sound to be of gun fire. Talking thus as I turned around, I suddenly saw blood coming out of the shoulders of some people. Realising that the foreigners were right in their assumption, we too ducked under cover. Two men masked in black cloth with guns in their hands entered the restaurant and one was firing indiscriminately. The terrorists left after five minutes and there was silence for some time.
Q: What happened later?
A: One of the staff members stood up and opened an emergency exit and led us out of it. It was totally dark there. It was near a swimming pool. We were asked to take cover behind the bushes. On the other side of the pool, there was an open pool-side dining area. There we again found terrorists firing at random, killing three people. Then I realised that what was happening was a serious attack of terror. After a few minutes, another staff member knocked on the door behind us and asked us to open it. He guided us into what appeared to be a store room of their kitchen and from a narrow, muddy staircase, we entered into first floor of the hotel, into a big lobby. There were already some people present there who were rescued from other parts of the hotel. It was about 10.30 pm in the night. We were altogether about 200 people there. We could hear gun fire being exchanged continuously just outside of this lobby till about 3 am in the morning. We could not know which force-the commandos or the police or the army-was there but could make out with certainty that the terrorists were being engaged now as earlier we heard what appeared to be singular sound of unilateral and indiscriminate shooting. There was silence for a brief period after this. Two guests who were taking cover in the lobby along with us crawled upto the curtains in an attempt to see what was happening and tried to escape to safety. The terrorists lurking some where there noticed them and they were shot on the head killing them on the spot. I was just a few metres away from this, taking cover behind a sofa along with some other guests among whom was an old handsome foreigner from Australia. On seeing these two men gunned down, he started palpitating and fell on me dead, may be due to heart-attack. Many times during our struggles I had been in situations where police firing had taken place, where we were attacked but this was an all together different experience. I too thought that this might be my last day but was not much scared of it. The only remorse was that we had to die in a terrorist attack and not in any of our struggles.
Q: How and when were you rescued?
A: We were in this lobby till about 9.30 am in the next morning. Early in the morning, people had to attend nature calls. Some men used water bottles lying on the floor to ease themselves. But there were many women also amongst us and it was their condition that was pathetic. We arranged big tables present there to create a small partition in order to facilitate this. But the women still hesitated as everyone was lying on the floor, and there was no outlet to see that the entire floor does not get wet. Seeing their uncomforting position, we brought a big brass flower pot from the corner, removed the flowers and converted it into a make-shift commode. Such were the humanitarian aspects that we encountered during this attack.
At about 9.30 am, NSG commandos appeared and showed us their ID cards and asked us to open the doors. After the doors were opened, they asked us to raise our hands and asked us to stand in two lines. Two commandos stood infront of us and started leading us out of the lobby. We could still hear gun fire around us. Some women got scared at this and started wailing and tried to duck and stay there at the hotel lobby. One of the commandos said, “Madam, don’t worry, any bullet that the terrorist fires should first pass through my chest to reach you.” Such was the bravery of our forces. We were rescued from the hotel by the security forces and were taken to the nearby police station for completing the necessary formalities.
Q: What do you feel about this entire attack?
A: I believe the terrorists took quite some time for prior preparation and to study the conditions. They were very familiar with the layout and geography of the hotel which was quite a maze to me and most of the guests with its inter connecting lobbies, doors, rooms etc. How many bullets would have been used, how many sacks of ammunition would have been brought to sustain 60 hours of firing? How did they move in all this? Intelligence in our country has failed. IB concentrates its energies more on the activities of the opposition parties, on the moves in internal lobbying in the ruling party and not on the security related aspects. What we need are the measures to prevent such happenings in the future and not acts like POTA.