The multiple explosions that occurred in Bodh Gaya in July 2013 may have caught the administration in Bihar by surprise, but there is no acceptable explanation for the Nitish Kumar government’s evident failure to anticipate the security risks and take pre-emptive steps to sanitise the venue ahead of the serial blasts in Patna on October 27. Given that the threat perception is high for Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, it stands to reason that strong and foolproof security should have been provided for a rally he was to address. Time and again in the aftermath of such incidents, there has been a pattern of post-facto finger-pointing, with the Union government saying it had sent out alerts on possible attacks, and the State government concerned denying having received any, or claiming that any input received was non-specific. But this is no excuse. For over two decades, since the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi during an election rally in 1991, the police and intelligence agencies follow a basic security regimen of controlling access, sanitising venues and screening the crowds. Barricading of venues and deploying doorframe and hand-held metal detectors are routine precautionary measures. Unfortunately, if the Central security agencies are right, these elementary steps were not taken by the Bihar police. Most of the explosions took place in and around Gandhi Maidan, the venue of the public meeting, and several bombs were defused there, indicating that no systematic sweep had been done. Evidently, the police had not fully secured the venue in advance, or screened visitors.
Predictably, the BJP has sought to make political capital out of the blasts, losing no time in accusing the Nitish Kumar regime of deliberately adopting a casual approach to security. The party did not call off the rally after the first of the blasts, claiming that there would have been panic had Mr. Modi not addressed it. Mr. Kumar has said security arrangements were indeed in place and that there was no intelligence input to act on. The police now appear to have ample information on an Indian Mujahideen module suspected to be involved; arrests and seizures have been quick. It is not enough for State governments to wait for hard intelligence to formulate a proactive and pre-emptive strategy to eliminate security risks. Both the Centre and the States must evolve specific security strategies and evolve better coordination of intelligence-sharing, in fact even institutionalise mechanisms for intelligence and security coordination. With elections round the corner, it is becoming imperative to focus sharply on this issue of ensuring security for leaders who have begun intensive election campaigns.