Mumbai: Another top Indian politician offered to resign on Monday over the Mumbai attacks, which have upset relations with nuclear-rival Pakistan and undermined the government ahead of general elections due by May.
Maharashtra state chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, a member of the ruling Congress party, said on Monday he had offered to resign over the attacks that killed 183 people and locked India’s financial capital in a three-day siege.
“I have offered to resign,” Deshmukh told reporters, adding he was waiting for party leaders to make a final decision.
His offer follows the resignation of Indian Home Minister Shivraj Patil on Sunday, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s announcement of a wide-ranging overhaul of the nation’s counter-terrorism capabilities.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh adressing the media outside Oberoi Hotel in Mumbai on Friday. PTI
The attacks, which struck Mumbai’s two best-known luxury hotels and other landmarks in the city of 18 million, have threatened improving ties between India and neighbouring Pakistan.
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has appealed to India not to punish his country for last week’s attacks, saying militants could precipitate a war, the Financial Times reported on Monday.
Zardari, whose wife, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated by Islamist militants last year, warned that provocation by rogue “non-state actors” posed the danger of a return to war between the nuclear-armed neighbours.
“Even if the militants are linked to Lashkar-e-Taiba, who do you think we are fighting?” asked Zardari in an interview with the Financial Times.
Analysts say the Mumbai assaults by Islamist militants bore the hallmarks of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based group blamed for attacks in India including a 2001 parliament blast that almost plunged the two into a fourth war.
“We live in troubled times where non-state actors have taken us to war before, whether it is the case of those who perpetrated (the) 9/11 (attacks on the United States) or contributed to the escalation of the situation in Iraq,” said Zardari.
“Now, events in Mumbai tell us that there are ongoing efforts to carry out copycat attacks by militants. We must all stand together to fight out this menace.”
Indian officials have said the 10 attackers who held Mumbai hostage with frenzied attacks using assault rifles and grenades came from Pakistan, a Muslim nation carved out of Hindu-majority India in 1947. [nLS401529]
Mumbai residents returned to schools and offices on Monday for the first time since the attacks. India’s main share index rose around 2%, with sentiment helped by a reshuffle of key posts.
Candlelight vigils were held in New Delhi and at various spots in Mumbai on Sunday, with people holding hands, singing songs and holding posters, some in remembrance of victims, others protesting over what they saw as government inaction.
A resident of Mumbai attends a candle light ceremony and a protest after attacks on the city killed more than 174. Among the dead were 18 foreigners, including six Americans. Nine gunmen were killed. David Guttenfelder / AP
Candles, flowers and pictures were also strewn at the bullet-scarred Cafe Leopold and at the barricades in front of the Taj and Trident hotels, where the gunmen holed themselves up during a 60-hour siege.
More vigils and remembrances were planned in the city, with messages going out as mass texts, e-mails and Facebook messages.
The White House said that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would travel to India on Wednesday.
“Secretary Rice’s visit to India is a further demonstration of the United States’ commitment to stand in solidarity with the people of India as we all work together to hold these extremists accountable,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said in a statement.
Rice has been in contact with the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan in recent days to ease tensions between the states, and this is expected to be a dominant theme in her meetings with Indian officials.
New Delhi said on Sunday it was raising security to a “war level” and had no doubt of a Pakistani link. There was anger that warnings of an attack appear to have been missed, and the response on the night was slow.
Officials in Islamabad have warned any escalation would force it to divert troops to the Indian border and away from a U.S.-led anti-militant campaign on the Afghan frontier.
“The architects of this calamity in Mumbai have managed to raise a threat on our other (Indian) border. As we have these people on the run along our western border (with Afghanistan), our attention is being diverted at this critical time,” Zardari told the Financial Times.
Zardari has vowed to crack down if given proof.
Some Indian security experts rejected the threat.
“It’s part of the usual blackmail of the United States that Pakistan does to take more interest in India-Pakistan issues,” said B. Raman, a former head of Indian intelligence agency RAW.
“They think this kind of argument will make the United States sit up and take notice of their sensitivities and do something about it,” he added, referring to warming ties between Washington and New Delhi, including a nuclear accord.