A series of low-intensity blasts killed five persons and left over 90 injured at a public ground in Bihar’s capital where hundreds of thousands had gathered for BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s mega ‘hunkar’ rally on Sunday.
Six bombs — improvised explosive devices (IED) with timers — went off in and around Gandhi Maidan between 11.40am and 12.45pm. Earlier, at 9.30am, a bomb had exploded in a toilet at Patna Junction railway station.
Despite the panic that ensued, Modi — arriving minutes after the last blast — went on to address the rally that was attended by an estimated 4 lakh people. He did not mention the blasts, though at the end of his speech he requested the people to return home safely. Later he tweeted, calling it "saddening and unfortunate."
Four persons have been detained for questioning; one was apparently caught by the public and handed over to the police. Preliminary investigations pointed to a link in Ranchi, capital of neighbouring Jharkhand state where police were raiding a hideout of suspects behind the blasts.
The explosions almost triggered a blame game in the aftermath of Sunday's rally.
At a press conference, chief minister Nitish Kumar said the involvement of terror groups could not be ruled out.
The BJP's leader in Bihar, Sushil Kumar Modi, alleged “criminal negligence” by the state government and said it had not done enough to address security concerns flagged ahead of the rally.
The chief minister insisted there was “neither intelligence failure nor a security lapse”.
The first crude bomb exploded in a public toilet building near platform 10 at Patna Junction, said Patna SSP Manu Maharaj said. A man was injured and hospitalized. A bomb squad member was also seriously wounded while trying to defuse two more bombs found there, he said.
Two hours later, bombs went off in and around Gandhi Maidan — near a movie theatre, a hotel, a children’s park and a bank — sending plumes of smoke in the air and people scurrying around in panic.
Police managed to prevent a stampede and the organisers of the rally also helped maintain calm by announcing that the blasts were burst tyres or crackers going off.
“We detected four more bombs. Defusing them turned out to be a problem as they are all fitted with timers,” said a bomb squad member.
In New Delhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asked Nitish to take "immediate and firm action" to identify and act against those responsible while the home ministry rushed National Investigation Agency (NIA) officers and bomb experts from the National Security Guard to the state. Government sources said a decision on transferring the case to the NIA would be taken on Monday.
After his rally, Modi tweeted, “Blasts in Patna are deeply saddening & unfortunate. Condolences with families of deceased & prayers with injured. I appeal for peace & calm.”
The BJP called the blasts a design to create panic and scuttle the rally.
“We want a probe into the blasts. This is really unfortunate,” said BJP’s national spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain.
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