BY RSN SINGH
Nowhere in the world a political rally has been held literally in the conscious shadow of bombs. I was witness to history being made in measures more than one in Gandhi Maidan at Patna. This is not merely an article from me in my capacity as a security analyst but someone who observed the chain of events from ground zero.
From vibrant to vitiated democracy
Henceforth Indian politics is not going to be the same because it lost its civility and political soul at Gandhi Maidan. Never in the history of India a political rally had been subjected to terrorist attack. The target was not only the leader, Narendra Modi, but the public as well. Terrorism had so far preyed on market places, metros, religious centers, defence installations, scientific installations, trains, railway stations and airports. Now a new element has been introduced in the scarred terrorist landscape which seeks to knock India out from its constitutional edifice and democratic framework.
This unprecedented happening will be a cause of persistent threat in the political paradigm in the foreseeable times to come. It may get worse as this deathly culture of violence during political rallies travels from cities to towns and rural areas, the latter two being completely defenceless. From all indications the serial blasts were orchestrated from Pakistan. It is from that country that the culture of eliminating political rivals during public rallies has finally traveled to India. If not nipped in the bud there will be any number of ‘Benazirs’ in India. It has begun to transform India from vibrant democracy to vitiated democracy.
Custodians politicizing terror
So when the Minister of State for Home RPN Singh said that the blasts in Patna during the rally were of ‘low intensity’ and were actually IEDs, he was not only technically amiss but failed to gauge the import of the event and its future ramifications on India’s democracy. Six deaths and hundred injuries by no means can be termed as low in effect.
In reality the hackneyed terms’ low intensity’ and IED are much abused. Just because low amount of explosives are used in a terrorist attack, it does not imply that the intent of the terrorist is limited in any manner. The quantity and type of explosives used depends on ease and convenience of logistics. As far as IED s are concerned, all bombs are improvised in one way or the other. Moreover, if several so called ‘low intensity’ bombs are used in series, the cumulative impact becomes high. In Patna Gandhi Maidan nearly half a dozen bombs went off in series, enough to cause stampede in an unprecedented crowd of more than more than half a million. The consequences would have been unimaginable specially if all the 18 bombs that were planted had exploded. Causalities would have been in thousands.
The attempt therefore by politicians and officials to dilute the enormity of terrorist attack by using terms like ‘low intensity’ and ‘IED’ is nothing but politicization of terror, a phenomenon which has become increasingly pronounced after 26/11 for exigencies of vote-bank politics. It needs to be constantly underscored that the Home Minister, Minister of State for Home, and Chief Ministers are not merely politicians but custodians of India’s security.
It was sheer destiny that Narendra Modi’s life was spared. It were the intangible factors and circumstances, which only those present at the location could sense that prevented thousands from being killed. Otherwise the state security apparatus in terms of willful omissions had left every conceivable security gap to invite what could have been a humongous tragedy.
This author had visited the podium area just 12 hours before the rally. There was none to stop, none to check, leave alone the area being sanitized by security and cordoned off. There were no sniffer dogs, no metal detectors and no CCTV. If this was the security sensitivity in the nerve center of the venue, the indifference in the rest of the Maidan can be extrapolated.
Such events or rallies are nothing unusual, they are routine, and call for certain routine security drills. These Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) were very much in place when President Parnab Muherjee visited Patna a day earlier, and have been strictly adhered to whenever Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have visited Bihar to address election rallies, even as they are unconstitutional authorities. In fact only recently when Sonia Gandhi visited Gaya after the blasts at Mahabodhi temple there was such a formidable cordon that crews of most TV news channels were not permitted to get anywhere close.
It needs to be reiterated that Narendra Modi apart from being a prime-ministerial candidate of the main opposition is also a Chief Minister, a constitutional authority.
The designated suicide bomber Ainul could not travel beyond the toilet of Platform No 10 of Patna Railway Station as he had messed up the circuit while preparing himself as human bomb. The other accomplice Imtiaz was not caught by the police as generally believed, but by brave and vigilant people. But for his apprehension many theories would have been fabricated. In fact the spin-doctors, some of them parliamentarians, who as facilitators of terror from across, having successfully concealed their true identities, were already on the over-drive attributing the terror attack as political conspiracy by the RSS.
For the facilitators of terrorists it has become customary to label all terrorist attacks as acts of Hindu terror unless proven otherwise. It was therefore to the good fortune of the blessed land of India that Imtiaz was apprehended, just as Ajmal Kasab, who as planned failed to destroy himself, to live to spoil the meticulously scripted agenda of conspiring in staging 2611 so that Hindu terror could be created to balance other forms of religious terror.
Salute to the public!
The Indian coordinator of the attack belongs to the Indian Mujahideen. He is one Tehseen, hailing from Samastipur in Bihar. He carries an award of Rs 10 lakhs. Tehseen has been close aide of Yasin Bhatkal, the founder of IM, whose custody the Bihar government refused to accept when he was apprehended on the Bihar-Nepal border. This is despite the fact that Bhatkal had the key role in creating IM modules in North Bihar.
Bombs were planted all around the Gandhi Maidan. They were perfectly timed to coincide with the onset of Narendra Modi’s speech. The explosions began from the eastern end at 11.40 pm and moved serially clockwise at intervals between 5 and 15 minutes. The fifth and the last i.e. sixth explosion were in the vicinity of the podium area at 12.30 pm and 12.45 pm respectively. Modi fortuitously arrived on the stage 30 minutes late, i.e. at 1 pm. It may be mentioned that nearly a dozen bombs went unexploded and were diffused later.
The plan to trigger stampede after Modi’s arrival is now quite clear. It is also evident that amidst the stampede the suicide bomber had been instructed to blow himself along with Modi.
The tangibles and intangibles that saved the day and this author was witness to were: the massive size of Gandhi Maidan (1.7 km circumference); the indifference, enthusiasm and fortitude of the people; the maturity and presence of mind of leaders on the podium; and of course wisdom of Modi. Owing to the massive size of Gandhi Maidan the crowds at the western end in the area around podium were insulated from the nature of the blasts at the eastern end. The same was later the case with regards to north and south.
The indifference and disregard for terror in the people had to be seen to be believed. This author was present at the centre of the Maidan. Even as Modi’s speech was in progress there were some 50 people who had encircled a life bomb, preventing others from straying into the perceived danger zone. A posse of policemen standing at some distance looked too befuddled to take charge of the situation. The rest of the huge crowd around chose not to be distracted from Modi’s speech.
It is therefore no exaggeration to say that the rally was conducted in presence and acute awareness of live bombs.
The leaders on the dais had commanding view of the ground and were conscious of the enormity of the situation. Not one of them betrayed any sign of worry or panic. On the contrary each one of them deliberately underplayed the blasts to the public as mere cracker explosions by over enthusiastic supporters.
As Modi arrived at the airport he was apprised of the situation and was advised to cancel his speech. He exercised great wisdom and courage in persisting with the schedule. Had he baulked and not addressed the rally, stampede or communal riots was certain. He was sagacious enough to escape completely any mention of blasts.
Such was the passion and courage of the people that several thousands of them having seen the blasts on television still headed for Gandhi Maidan after learning that Modi had arrived at Patna and was on his way to the venue. Since vehicles were not permitted, this author walked with part of this crowd, covering a distance of two kms. All through there were slogans to the effect that bombs could not deter them. There were slogans against Pakistan and against the Bihar Chief Minister for having visited that country.
The political resolve of the people had defeated terror.
Creating environment for terror
Perusal of the intelligence inputs by the Intelligence Bureau to the Bihar government is now available in the open domain. They incontrovertibly prove that the warning could not have been more specific. Even if it were not so, to a common man the threat perception in respect of Narendra Modi is well known. The threat to his life from human bombs became evident with the recruitment of Ishrat Jahan by the LeT for the purpose.
It needs to be investigated that that why was Patna chosen by the IM and its handlers in Pakistan for attempt to assassinate Modi. The truth is that a fertile ground has consciously been nurtured in the state to facilitate jihadi terror. North Bihar has emerged as the hub of jihadi terror after 26/11, particularly after the visit of the CM to Pakistan. One of the founders of IM Amir Reza Khan was from Bihar. The key early recruits to the organization Fasih Mohammed and Mohd Tarique Anjum hailed from Darbhanga and Nalanda respectively. It was Fasih Mohammad who took Yasin Bhatkal to Darbhanga. Fasih and LeT chief Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi together monitored 26/11 attack from control room set up in Malir in Karachi.
There also have been recent reports to suggest teaming up of IM with Al Qaeda. Bihar is also one of meeting points of two terrors, i.e. Jihadi Terror and Maoist Terror. Yasin Bhatkal has revealed that he met Maoist leaders in Nepal before serial blasts rocked Gaya in July. The boy who desecrated the iconic Amar Jawan Jyoti in Mumbai was one Yunus Ansari, also from Bihar. It was in Bihar that some politicians described the LeT operative Ishrat Jahan as ‘Bihar ki Beti’ (daughter of Bihar). The alleged mastermind of Patna blasts Tehseen Akhtar, is the main financer of terrorist attacks by Indian Mujahedeen and obtains money from his handlers in Pakistan through hawala transactions from Dubai, tapping into Dawood’s network. He too hails from Samistipur in Bihar.
Latest reports also suggest that eight students of particular hostel were indoctrinated, trained and paid Rs 10,000 to plant bombs in Gandhi Maidan. It indicates the level of Islamic radicalization in Bihar.
When the Chief Minister of a state begins to treat a counterpart as enemy and not political adversary for reasons solely attributable to religious votebank, it only abets fundamentalism, radicalization and terror. In effect it conveys mistaken signals to the security apparatus of the state.
It is in this politically cultivated environment that for the first time in India a political rally became target of terrorist attack. Security is the decisive component of governance. There can be no development without security. If a CM tries to toss the buck of terrorism at the Central Government it amounts to criminal neglect or conspiracy, because he is not only guilty of creating a political environment to facilitate terror but also of deliberate dereliction by willfully neglecting an appropriate response and security structure. A prominent lawyer and very credible spokesman of a political party has spoken about the infiltration of IM in Bihar Police. Jihadi terror and Maoist terror when considered together, the situation in Bihar is grim. It may be mentioned that 32 out of 38 districts in Bihar are impacted by Maoist terror. There are no go areas in certain parts of Gaya district, even for the CM. With regard to Maoist terror, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has declared Bihar as ‘severely affected’ along with Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha. It is the security situation in Bihar that is deterring investors.
The political conspiracy angle on the Patna blasts should not be treated as mere possibility. Even as links to Pakistan, based on inputs provided by the apprehended accused were being traced to Karachi, some politicians took umbrage on the very mention of the name of the country. Some politicians even took umbrage on mere expression of suspicion on Indian Mujhaideen. The same umbrage was seen in the state government over formulations like ‘Darbhanga Module’ or ‘Madhubani Module’. There was also umbrage when Maharashtra ATS and the Karnataka ATS came to Bihar to apprehend terrorists.
The magnitude of the averted disaster should have sent shock waves in the administration, engendered hard introspection, imbued a sense divine relief and stirred modicum of sympathy for main target. But the very next day hostile acerbic political comments were being made by the person who should have been most apologetic. Those comments and lessons in history could have been reserved for some other day.
The forebodings were there. A young man in his early 20s had told this author a day before that he had information that there were plans to disrupt the rally by a rival party by infiltrating its cadres in the crowd. It seemed incredulous because India never had such political culture even in the days preceding Emergency or after.
Soon after the rally as this author was waiting outside the Gandhi Maidan for the crowd to subside, a car driver of some dignitary hailing from Buxar, during the course of conversation, and in full innocence said that he had arrived at 8.30 in the morning and was warned by a bystander that he should not wait for the rally to begin as the entire venue had been planted with bombs. His apprehensive companion in fact tried to dissuade him from sharing this information.
In all political assassinations in India it is invariably observed that key personalities and functionaries are away from scene of disaster or chose to be away from town. This happened in the case of Rajiv Gandhi or more recently in the Maoist murder of politicians in Chhattisgarh and of course now. The main suspect in Chhattisgarh massacre struts openly on the political landscape of the state. The facilitators of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination have been enjoying the fruits of power under all dispensations.
The blasts at Gandhi Maidan pose the most alarming question, i.e. is Pakistan going to determine who will be the next prime minister of India?
(RSN Singh is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research & Analysis Wing. The author of two books: Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and Military Factor in Pakistan, he is also a Guest Blogger with Canary Trap)