26/11 Mumbai attacks: We have to kill, or die, recalls former ACP Isaque Bagwan
There was no going back for super cop Isaque Bagwan on the frontline, as gunshots and grenades shook Chabad House
Isaque Bagwan, then assistant commissioner of police (ACP), had gone for his daily evening walk to Marine Drive on November 26, 2008. The Arabian Sea seemed calm, a deceptive one that Bagwan realised later. "I recall reaching my home in Colaba; my wife was waiting for me for dinner. I told my wireless man and driver to leave for the day," he said.
Bagwan, however, never got to dinner; instead, he got a phone call. "[It was] from the commissioner Hasan Gafoor, telling me to rush to Leopold Café, where firing was on." The super cop took his revolver (a toy against the beasts AK47s and grenades he would face) and sped to the Café, the wailing police siren cutting through the silence of the night.
En route, Bagwan was told that the attack at Leopold was over and to proceed to Chabad (Nariman) House. With very few men, Bagwan reached Chabad House, where terrorists were firing indiscriminately. "I called Rakesh Maria saab (then joint commissioner of police, crime) and said I need manpower. He said the State Reserve Police Force was arriving, and to give it some time and not leave the place. I assured him I would not," he said. The lights in Chabad House were out. Bagwan added, "I evacuated several buildings around, at least 300 people shepherded to safety by my men." The awesome firepower meant Bagwan had to motivate his men. "I told them in Marathi "there has been a terror attack on the city. Koni maage jayacha nahi (nobody should move back); maaraycha naahi ta maraaycha (we have to kill or die ourselves)."
Bagwan said, "I was getting calls from my family; they were crying as television was relaying footage. I told them not to call me, as I was fighting. I believe in never stepping back." Bagwan said his strategy of gheraoing the terrorists bore fruit. "We used sand sacks to block lanes. They were firing; I told my men to fire back, keep up the tempo, even though our weapons were no match. I wanted to deceive the terrorists into thinking there were many more of us than just a dozen."
Firing continued through the night, punctuated by grenade explosions. "Early morning, I saw a lady in a maxi run out of Chabad house carrying a little boy. We took her to Colaba police station in a van; it was an unbelievable escape," said Bagwan. That boy was Baby Moshe, the now iconic name of 26/11, and the heroic woman was his maid Sandra.
Bagwan said that as the battle continued, "I told my seniors I wanted to storm the building. But I was told not to take that risk as the NSG was en route. They came by 4 pm on November 27, and then, it was NSG vs the terrorists." Through all this, Bagwan and his men kept the terrorists engaged and surrounded the building completely. Summing up, he said, "I could never show my men that I was rattled, I was true to my uniform; I had to face terror and be true to the nation. Today, I am retired but in touch with my colleagues. If, God forbid, there is an attack again, I will have no hesitation in rushing to fight."
Bagwan's message to Mumbai
"The police force should not be in the hands of politicians; it must be independent. We needed better weapons then. We were not provided hand grenades or body protectors. We needed a separate special force, different from those who do daily policing, to fight terror. Citizens must forget their divisions of caste and religion and come together as one; that is the biggest morale booster for forces," signed off the former ACP, who won the President's medal for gallantry for a record third time. He retired in May 2009.
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