History Matters | March 1993: How Dawood Ibrahim Destroyed the Soul Of Mumbai

Investigations into the March 1993 blasts revealed a complete failure of intelligence.

4 min read

It was the first in a series of terror attacks targeting innocent civilians in urban centres that caused mayhem and misery in India for 20 long and uninterrupted years. So sustained and so bloodthirsty was this barbarity that the mighty Indian state looked on helplessly as citizens were slaughtered indiscriminately in bomb blasts that occurred usually in heavily populated urban areas.

One never knew when and where the terrorists would strike. It could be a political rally in Coimbatore when carefully panted bombs would explode, killing 58 people. It could be a car bomb right outside the Jammu and Kashmir assembly that would explode, killing 26. It could be a diabolically planned series of bomb blasts in Varanasi that would kill 28. It could be a series of blasts in a major market in Delhi on the eve of Diwali that would kill 70. It could be a bomb blast in a moving train that would kill 70.

Or it could be a series of blasts in Ahmedabad including in a hospital where the wounded were being taken, that would kill 56. There is no need to recount the multiple terror attacks that have ravaged Mumbai. Perhaps the last such major attack occurred in Hyderabad in February 2013 that killed 18.


But it all started exactly 20 years before the Hyderabad bombings. 12 March 1993 was a normal Friday in bustling Bombay (now Mumbai). The maximum city seemed to have shrugged off the deadly communal riots that had engulfed the metropolis in the aftermath of the demolition of the Babri Masjid on 6 December 1992. Being the financial capital and corporate powerhouse of India, it was important for Bombay to return to some semblance of normalcy. It was returning.

But then, on the afternoon of 12 March, a series of bomb blasts in crowded areas including near the iconic Dalal Street where the Bombay Stock Exchange is located convulsed the city. By the time the police and the doctors finished counting the bodies, the death toll stood at 257 along with about 1000 injured.

The situation was so ugly that the then chief minister of Maharashtra, Sharad Pawar, preferred to lie and announce that a bomb blast had also occurred in Muslim-majority areas. Who knows? Perhaps that lie prevented a fresh bout of riots.

But the March 1993 bomb blasts opened a can of worms. Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt, son of much-loved Congress leader Sunil Dutt, was accused of being involved in the conspiracy to plot and execute the blasts. After a lengthy trial, he was convicted of illegal arms possession and spent time at Yerwada jail in Pune. The more shocking revelation was that mafia dons like Dawood Ibrahim, who had a stranglehold over crime in Bombay, had conducted the blasts to take “revenge” for Babri and the Bombay riots.

Even more shocking were whispers of collusion between criminal and mafia syndicates led by the likes of Dawood, and people in powerful positions in government institutions. While not directly related to the March 93 blasts, a report submitted by the N N Vora committee in October 1993 probing the nexus between criminals, bureaucrats, and politicians created a firestorm. Details of the report have not been officially released to date.

Dawood Ibrahim lives in Karachi, Pakistan, protected by the country’s notorious intelligence agency, the ISI, though the Indian media keeps recirculating rumours about his death. But, in a manner of speaking, Dawood Ibrahim did destroy the cosmopolitan soul of Mumbai. Sure, the city is still magical and attracts thousands chasing dreams every day.

But sadly, the fracture between Hindus and Muslims has not healed. In many ways, the fault lines have deepened.

The story and the gory details of the March 1993 blasts have been told so many times that the authors don't want to dwell on them in detail. What mystifies the authors in hindsight is the abject abdication of its responsibility by the state for 20 long years as bomb blasts and terror strikes went on killing innocent Indians.

Investigations into the March 1993 blasts revealed a complete failure of intelligence. The internal security system of India was simply not geared to deal with such threats and when Dawood and his fellow gangsters decided to execute the diabolical blasts. But what about the aftermath?

The authors would like to highlight three incidents that show how helpless the Indian state was in the face of repeated and brazen terror attacks. Take the IC-814 hijack fiasco. The plane did manage to land in Amritsar for a while. But completely caught off guard, security agencies failed to prevent the aircraft from taking off again, eventually landing in Kandahar in Afghanistan. Or take the horrific local train bombings in Mumbai in 2006.

The deadly bomb blasts at Sarojini Nagar and other crowded places in Delhi in 2005 should have prompted the Indian security and intelligence apparatus to dramatically upgrade its operational skills. Yet, the 2006 train blasts happened. Worse, two years later, the apparatus was apparently in slumber when 26/11 happened. Even after 26/11, the terror attacks in urban centres continued.

The authors have no expertise on security issues and challenges. And yet, as ordinary Indians, they wonder why the Indian state failed so miserably to prevent ghastly terror attacks in dozens of cities in India for 20 uninterrupted years. This question becomes even more relevant because there has been a miraculous halt in such terror attacks since 2014.

Again, the authors have no desire to enter the perpetual war of words between supporters and critics of Narendra Modi over this. The authors are convinced terror is beyond political partisanship. And it remains a threat even now. The number of arrests and convictions generated by the National Investigative Agency in the last few years is testimony to that menacing threat. We can only hope that security and intelligence agencies continue to do whatever they are doing right since 2014.

(Yashwant Deshmukh and Sutanu Guru work with the CVoter Foundation. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the authors' own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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