Was Nitish Slipshod In Arranging Security?
It was least expected but when it happened not many were surprised. After all, it happened in Nitish Kumar-ruled Bihar, who from his sarcasms and hate-coated statements, made it clear long ago that he loathed Narendra Modi and looked down on him. So, when there was one blast at 9.30 am at Patna station, and then one at the sprawling Gandhi Maidan, the venue for Hunkar Rally, to be addressed by Modi, and then another and another and then the last one just 80 feet away from the rostrum (which was diffused at 12.25), rumours instantly spread and various theories floated. Kumar and Bihar police were immediately under micro-scrutiny.
Was he negligent in arranging security? Did he want the rally to be a no-show and pull the tag of pied piper Modi became after six successful rallies? Did he want to show India that in his Bihar he was the strongman and Modi a Lilliputian? Was the alert issued by the Intelligence Bureau received?
Nitish Kumar initially said the security was adequate but there was no IB alert. Later, the state DGP clarified that there was an alert but no specific target was mentioned, which means it was a general warning. But the state IB officer said an alert about the Modi rally was issued on October 23. The last word was said by Home Minister Sushilkumsr Shinde, “The Centre had alerted the Bihar government about possible terror attack on BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s rally in Patna. We have said that we had given input (about Patna rally). Now, it was general or specific input that is a different thing. Whenever there is specific input we give but whenever there are such rallies we give input saying you have rally in your state so there could be a possibility of an attack.” But he added an alert with regard to all rallies has been issued, to take extra precautions when rallies are held.
These facts bolster the impression that arrangements for security were made in a casual manner. It seems there was criminal neglect by the state police, which would not have been possible if Kumar had directed for strictest security knowing that Modi not only has Z-security but since becoming prime minister-nominee he has got extra cover as per Home Ministry’s directive. It also directed state governments about the security they should provide to Modi, if he visits their state.
The state government is to provide bullet-proof SUVs, adequate force to man the route Modi would take and sanitising the places he might be scheduled to visit and a vehicle with jammers. This direction was followed scrupulously by the Andhra Pradesh government when he went to Hyderabad recently.
This directive is for normal situations. But when explosions had taken place the urgent need was to immediately issue alert and arrange for the strictest and maximum security at Gandhi Maidan. Three hours after the first blast at the station, the first bomb exploded at Gandhi Maidan. There was thus enough time for the state police to sanitise the area around the Maidan, make arrangements for frisking at the 10 entrances and provide jammers and get an ambulance and a medical team.
But it seems nothing was done. Reports allege that even routine steps were not taken. A Central official said there was no adequate advance planning nor any threat assessment was done. A senior police officer refused to sign Advanced Security Liaison (ASL) report, even after a series of exercises and holding meetings with the Gujarat Police. The document details mutually agreed steps to keep Modi and the rally safe. Obviously, the Bihar Police had little intention to take steps agreed upon.
After the bomb blast at the station, Gandhi Maidan should have been sealed and trains carrying fans should have been delayed to be able to thoroughly check and sanitise the venue. All bombs could have been discovered. But even routine checks were not done, like frisking, barricading and setting-up of door-frame or hand-held metal detectors. No plan was made for evacuation. Without a medical team, the injured were either carried by policemen or on cycles. It was like 18th century. And Kumar claims Bihar is developing fast.
If the area was sanitised, the bomb near the rostrum could have been discovered, although later it was diffused. But the blast of greater intensity two days after the rally and further discovery of five bombs showed that no proper sanitisation was carried out. It is now learnt that in total IM operatives brought 18 bombs.
It was fortuitous that on the insistence of Gujarat Police officers, Modi delayed his arrival at the venue by almost 40 minutes and consequently all the bomb blasts took place before he climbed on to the rostrum.
The police had reason to be better prepared. Less than four months ago, there was a serial blasts at the Mahabodhi temple complex in Gaya. Same Akhtar was behind it. The bombs—both there and the ones at Hunkar Rally—were made with ammonium nitrate and the modus operandi at Bodh Gaya was repeated at Patna rally. Yet, even stretchers were not available to carry the injured to hospital. This has ignited public anger. They all feel that the government intentionally did not make adequate arrangements. Ironically, the District Magistrate, Superintendent of Police and Senior Superintendent of Police and other senior government officials live across the street from Gandhi Maidan, which is a high security area. The fact that so many bombs could be planted, that too at a political rally, which ought to have had tight security, requires an inquiry and explanation at several levels including that of the Chief Minister.
Why is the casual approach to security arrangements? Did the police sense that Kumar wanted to take the shine out of the rally, for, he did not want the man he despised to go back triumphant after a grand rally? This suspicion was based on the fact that he had drawn up the programme of the Patna visit of President Pranab Mukherjee up to October 27, which was the date fixed months earlier for the Hunkar Rally. But the President, a seasoned political game player, could possibly see through the whole thing and refused to be a pawn of Kumar in his duel with Modi and declined to stay until October 27.
What was the aim of the plotters—members of the Indian Mujahideen module in Ranchi? The main suspect turned out to be Tehsin Akhtar, a committed jihadi and a very shrewd planner, who has proved to be a slippery customer. Led by him, eight operatives in three teams were involved. Hailing from Samastipur, he is said to be nephew of Taqi Akhtar, who is secretary of JD(U) in Samastipur. He, at 23, carries a prize of Rs10 lakh and is
one of the most wanted men on the NIA list.
One Imtiaz, who was arrested, said the plan was to cause stampede—one can imagine the catastrophic scene when four lakh people tried to leave the place at the same time. Thousands would have died. After such a tragedy people would not have dared to go to Modi’s future rallies. That would have been a serious setback to the BJP and Modi per se.
The other question is: Why did the IM operatives strike in Patna and not at earlier Modi rallies? It could be because the security at other places was far more efficient and strict. Also possibly, the IM operatives with the IM module in Ranchi felt safer and at “home” in Patna. They could have safe homes nearby. They also must have known Nitish Kumar’s hatred for Modi.
So where should buck stop for the extreme negligence in providing security? As Chief Minister Ntitish Kumar has to take the blame, he did not even call Modi, a common courtesy! In fact, within 48 hours at JD(U)’s meet in Rajgir, he called Modi fascist and a liar and a threat to democracy. It seems that Nitish has turned his fight with Modi into a gladiatorial duel. Yet, the success of the Hunkar Rally must have rattled Nitish Kumar.
The sea of humanity at Gandhi Maidan exposed his fading popularity. The manner in which the crowd cheered and laughed at every barb against “hamare mitra” gave an indication of the direction the wind has started blowing before the forthcoming Lok Sabha election. Nitish Kumar would have realised this but then he has no option to carry on with his anti-Modi campaign virulently.
Political analysts, however, believe that the serial bomb blasts, and bad planning and preparedness to deal with contingencies, like providing first aid and taking the injured to hospitals, have sealed Nitish Kumar’s fate. He would not admit it and change his tactics. He has gone too far in his destructive Modi campaign to retrace his steps and take a more favourable root to electoral success
It is relevant to mention that political revolutions are almost synonymous with Bihar. From the Champaran Satyagraha of Gandhi (which he skilfully linked to the satyagraha at Dandi) to Jaiprakash Narayan’s fight against the then Congress government, Bihar has seen it all. Modi has already triggered a revolution against the system today and is trying to fight against status quoists, who are beneficiary of the present system. It is a tough fight—the
status quoists are well-entrenched and powerful.
He has done well to start a semi-revolution from Patna. It would help BJP try and come within the striking distance of 272 or even 200 plus if it gets good number of seats in the state. It has the opportunity to snatch most votes of Lalu’s RJD, he being in jail and Rabri Devi almost clueless. Modi blatantly made a pitch for Yadav votes when he said Yadavanshis’ Krishna was in Dwarka.
It is clear that Modi would make more forays into Bihar. Let us watch if he comes out unscathed while defying Nitish Kumar or the latter attempts to frighten Modi into scrapping his visits to Bihar. The odds favour Modi.
The JD(U) seems to be fraying and becoming chaotic. The defiance of Shivanandan Tewari, MP, and a senior party leader at the party’s Rajgir meet is ominous for Kumar. He said that Modi must not be underestimated. He is a potent threat as someone who belonged to a backward class but enjoyed the support of the upper caste as well. He represents a coalition of lower caste aligned to him and the upper caste which is with the BJP. Ntish Kumar, he said, was surrounded by flatters. Kumar and Sharad Yadav listened to the Tewari diatribe quietly. Later, Kumar denounced whatever Tewari said.
Earlier, two JD(U) members have left the party, now Tewari’s open revolt! Kumar’s party seems to be moving towards a split. If Yadav leads it, no one would be surprised. At the end, Nitish Kumar could regret the split with the BJP and his uncalled for duel with Modi.
By Vijay Dutt