Even at this initial stage, it is evident that a security failure of colossal proportions was responsible for the serial blasts at Patna’s Gandhi Maidan. While Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has claimed there was no security lapse, eyewitness accounts and media reports from the venue point fingers at lax policing. There is no other explanation possible to how six explosive devices with timers were smuggled into the venue. The inadequate number of personnel, absence of a bomb disposal squad, and the poor training imparted to the policemen were noticeable from the crude manner in which the injured were hauled to hospitals and the failure to cordon off the site.
While there is relief that casualties were not higher, the audacity of the terrorists — a suspected Indian Mujahideen module — in attacking an election rally must serve as a grim warning to law enforcement agencies. Such an attack, the first since Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination at an election meeting at Sriperumbudur in 1991, reinforces the security threat perception around Narendra Modi. With the Gujarat Chief Minister slated to tour the country extensively, the Centre and respective states must ensure that a repeat of Patna does not occur.
The mature handling of the situation by the BJP’s central leadership present at the Gandhi Maidan is praiseworthy. BJP leaders Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh and Narendra Modi refrained from politicising the issue, called for harmony, and appealed to the assembled supporters to disperse peacefully after the rally. Modi’s Patna speech was also an example of how he has been continuously fine-tuning his message to voters. On the communal question, he exhorted Hindus and Muslims to work together for development and termed poverty as their common enemy.
This was a clear shift from the man who accused the Congress of hiding behind the “burqa of secularism” earlier this year and equated the pain he felt for the Gujarat riots with that for a puppy that goes under the wheels of a car he was travelling in. By singing an inclusive line, Modi, to his credit, has tried to reach out to a wider section that has so far been diffident to his charms. Rahul Gandhi’s campaign, on the other hand, is unable to reach out to voters disenchanted with the UPA on corruption and a stagnant economy. Instead, Rahul’s articulation of issues has centred around the Congress welfare schemes, some of which like food security and land acquisition, are yet to take off.
Modi’s onslaught on Nitish Kumar was rooted in the shared antipathy amongst socialists and Hindutva proponents for the Congress. His claim that Nitish betrayed Jayaprakash Narayan and Ram Manohar Lohia by deserting the BJP and allowing the Congress to court the JD(U) may strike the right chord. Modi’s not-so-subtle overtures to the Yadav community were also significant for its caste undertones.
A casual mention of an affectionate gesture to Lalu Prasad Yadav was followed by a surprising reminder to UP and Bihar’s “Yaduvansh” community that Krishna settled in Gujarat’s Dwarka. Modi told the Yadavs that he had come with Krishna’s blessings and would, henceforth, take care of their problems. The rally was an outright morale-booster for the BJP. But will Narendra Modi stick to the line he crafted in Patna?