Mangal Pandey, president of the Bihar unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party, is scathing about the security lapses at the Hunkar rally in Patna on Sunday.
Pandey, who was on the dais at Gandhi Maidan when the explosions took place at the venue, points out that standard security measures like metal detectors, sniffer dogs and bomb detection machines were ignored for a rally that he says was the "biggest ever since Independence" in Bihar.
“When Narendra Modi arrived in Patna, there were no senior officials to receive him. The junior officials who were there told him ‘Sir, please don’t go to Gandhi Maidan’...
“Bihar's police administration tried their best to prevent him from coming on to the stage after the blasts. When we asked them how were we going to disperse the seven lakh people and if he did not go there, wouldn’t that lead to greater anger? -- the state government officials had no response to this,” he said in a telephone interview to Rediff.com’s Archana Masih.
What was the security bandobast for Narendra Modi’s rally and what were the lapses that led to the bomb blasts in Patna on Sunday?
It was a total failure.
The first lapse was that the checking of the venue that is mandatory and routine and done a day in advance of the rally, wasn’t done properly.
I had spoken to the Bihar director general of police and senior superintendent of police about proper security checks of every person entering the venue at every gate of Gandhi Maidan.
They said they would install metal detectors at every gate and each person will pass through the metal detector. They assured that no one will enter the venue unless s/he has passed through the metal detector.
But there was no provision of metal detectors at the venue.
There were no metal detectors at any of the gates?
There are seven gates to enter Gandhi Maidan. Six gates did not have it and the people were just entering the venue without security checks.
What security concerns did you share with the Bihar DGP when you met him in the run-up to Sunday's rally?
I had personally met and told the Bihar DGP on October 23 that I suspected that there could be trouble in two places -- Patna Junction and Gandhi Maidan. That there was need for greater alertness and vigilance at these two places.
And these were exactly the two places where the blasts took place. If the DGP had taken these things into account, the blasts could have been averted.
We had a final meeting with the Patna administration on October 25. In the guidelines that were given at that time, it was said clearly that proper checks would be done at the venue.
There are two kinds of security drills for such rallies – sniffer dogs and bomb detection machines that are used at the venue. This was not followed. If this had been done, the blasts would not have happened.
Secondly, it is the intelligence failure of the Bihar government. After Independence, this was the biggest rally to take place in Bihar. Moreover, when an important prime ministerial candidate is having a meeting like this, it is the responsibility of the central government and Intelligence Bureau.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said yesterday that he did not have any such intelligence input from the central government or the IB?
That is why I am saying it is a failure of the central government.
Nitish Kumar has two faces. One is what he says on his own. The other is what people from his party are saying. Senior spokespersons from his party are making provocative statements – no spokespersons make statements without consulting with their leader.
Were you at the venue when the blasts took place?
I was on the stage when I saw the blasts and was telling people not to burst firecrackers because if people sensed fear it would lead to a stampede and thousands would have died.
What was Narendra Modi’s reaction?
Woh hak-bak the [he was stunned] and was sad.
Were there doubts in your mind that this rally may not be able to take place because of what had happened?
The Bihar police administration tried its best to prevent Narendra Modi from coming on to the stage.
Was he told directly that he should not do so?
When Narendra Modi arrived in Patna, there were no senior officials to receive him. The junior officials who were there told him ‘Sir, please don’t go to Gandhi Maidan’.
Then we asked them how were we going to disperse the seven lakh people assembled in Gandhi Maidan. If Narendra Modi did not go there, it would lead to greater anger and the state government officials had no response to this.
Image: The BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi at the Hunkar rally in Patna on Sunday. Photo: Krishna Murari Kishan/ Reuters