Once again, the gaping holes in India’s armour against terrorism stand exposed. Immediately after Sunday’s multiple explosions at the Mahabodhi temple complex in Bodh Gaya and sites nearby, the Ministry of Home Affairs was quick to point out there had been several intelligence reports that the shrine, revered by Buddhists the world over, could be targeted by terrorists. Fortunately, no lives were lost in the attacks, nor has the temple, or the tree under which the Buddha is said to have gained enlightenment, been damaged. But the MHA’s assertion immediately raises old, depressingly familiar questions: after the Bihar government was told the site was in the crosshairs of terrorists, why did it not take adequate measures to counter the threat? In all, 13 bombs were planted at various locations, of which 10 exploded. The temple was clearly not sufficiently protected, to the extent that the perpetrators went undetected even while they placed an explosive device at considerable height on an 80-foot Buddha statue. Countering the terrorist threat needs the Centre and the State to work seamlessly at all levels — information sharing, real time analysis of specific threats, and that most vital link in the chain, putting in place the men and measures to prevent threats from coming true. The Centre believes the National Counter-Terrorism Centre is the answer, but the constitutional overreach in the initial blueprint gave the project such a bad name that even a diluted version has failed to persuade non-UPA State governments to support it.
As if the security failings have not been demoralising enough, there is the immature conduct of politicians to contend with. The Bodh Gaya attack immediately led to speculation that the Indian Mujahideen — an alleged operative of the group arrested last year is said to be the source of the pre-warning — did it to avenge recent anti-Muslim violence in Myanmar. This has yet to be established. Hopefully, footage from the cameras and other forensic material at the temple will provide investigators with clues to track down the bombers. Sadly, the absence of concrete leads hasn’t prevented some from jumping to conclusions about the incident, and senior leaders in the Congress, BJP and RJD have lost no time in using the bomb attack to score political points against each other and the Nitish Kumar government. Congress leader Digvijay Singh has blithely suggested a link between the attacks and the JD(U)’s recent exit from the BJP-led opposition alliance. All this only adds to the sense that India’s political class lacks the capacity to understand or deal with the seriousness of the threat that terrorism poses to the country.