On the afternoon of Friday, March 12 in 1993, the very foundation of the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) was shaken by the car bomb that went off in its basement.
In the next six hours, after 12 more blasts and growing rumours – in the absence of mobile phones and news television – meant that a fearful city had shut down except those who searched for their missing family or friends. Local trains went nearly empty that day.
On the morning of March 15, 1993, the trains were carrying their usual load as Bombayites trooped back to work. South Mumbai, then the headquarters of Indian economy, was cautious but back on its feet.
The resilient return to its rhythm first earned the city the now-clichéd qualifier “the spirit of Bombay”. The intervening 72 hours turned out to be a lesson in crisis management led by the then chief minister Sharad Pawar and his team of bureaucrats.
The rail of orders that came from the chief minister was: the city police to ensure that the communal peace of six weeks did not break; police presence at key locations; both western and central railways to conduct quick checks but to continue running all trains; BEST buses back the next day; announcements at railway stations and bus terminals from the next morning to apprise people that their city was “safe”.
What helped was that Pawar personally spoke to leaders of the stock market community to resume trading on Monday; he also appealed to leaders of Hindu and Muslim communities to rein in their boys. “Those 72 hours were a test for us,” Pawar later said of his team. Key decisions of those three days became the template of disaster management response.