It took nine back-to-back blasts inside the historic walled city of Jaipur in 2008 that killed more than 60 people to finally jolt security agencies in the state out of their slumber.
As chaos spread in the densely populated area and television flashed gory images of bloodied bodies lying everywhere, few noticed the attackers chose the spot for maximum casualties and proximity to the city’s iconic structure: The Hawa Mahal.
Experts say the Hawa Mahal is only one of the dozens of heritage structures across the city vulnerable to militant strikes. The security arrangements are flimsy and ill equipped to deal with an attack mounted like in the Bangladesh capital Dhaka last month, where a hostage crisis in an upmarket restaurant left 20 people dead.
“An attack on the Hawa Mahal would be a direct assault on the essence of Jaipur since this monument is synonymous with the city,” said Rajasthan’s former director general of police (DGP) Omendra Bhardwaj.
Such an attack would deal a body blow to the tourism industry that sustains a major part of the state’s economy. But eight years after the walled city attacks, has Jaipur learnt its lesson?
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‘HARDLY ANY SECURITY’
At 10 in the morning, the sprawling courtyard of the Hawa Mahal is already filled with loose clusters of tourists, many of them foreigners.
Contrary to expectations, there is no trace of a guard as one enters the compound of the monument.
“There is hardly any security arrangement here. Even if there are any security personnel, they will be looking at traffic arrangements and will be probably unarmed,” said Bhardwaj.
“It’s easy for anyone to enter the compound and start spraying bullets on the unsuspecting tourists.”
The primary duty of the two guards at the main entrance is to check for tickets and their halfhearted attempt at frisking tourists indicates that searching for hidden weapons is not on their mind. “People who are doing the frisking themselves have no idea what they are looking for,” said Bhardwaj.
THREAT OF A LONE WOLF
The former DGP said that an attack akin to the Orlando shootings that is carried out by an individual working independently with no prior connection with known terror outfits is the biggest nightmare for security agencies.
In Orlando, for example, a lone shooter entered a gay nightclub and gunned down 49 people.
“In case of a group attack, the intelligence agencies get a chance to monitor people getting in touch with known terror suspects but in a lone wolf attack, it’s not possible,” said Bhardwaj.
He said that it is easy to apprehend people if they come in touch with known suspects. “For example, two youth living in Jaipur, who planned to carry out a terror attack, were arrested in 2014 after they contacted a known operative of the ISI,” said Bhardwaj.
HIGH IMPACT TARGETS
Understanding the psyche of terrorists is important to identify potential targets because they hunt for locations with maximum impact, both in terms of casualties and shock value, Bhardwaj said.
“Terrorists would look for heavily crowded places and also those of religious significance,” he said, adding that a place like the popular Govind Dev Ji temple was a probable target.
WAKEUP CALL IN 2008
The 2008 serial blasts was a wakeup call for the security establishment, said the ex-DGP. “Before the 2008 blasts, Rajasthan hardly had any specific set of people to combat terrorism. The anti terrorism squad (ATS) was constituted after the attacks and now we have some of the best people,” said Bhardwaj.
Another game changer has been the multi agency centre (MAC) -- a central organisation with centres in all states with representatives from various investigative agencies. MAC was created for streamlining intelligence efforts.
“We have specific sets of plans developed for different scenarios which will be implemented in case of an emergency,” said Sanjay Agarwal, city commissioner of police.
Rajasthan also has an emergency response team (ERT) that is an arm of the ATS. “Regular mock drills and 360 degree trainings are organised by the ERT teams and it has proven its mettle in competitions with other such agencies in the country,” said Bhardwaj. He added that the state also has a team of negotiators, who have been trained to handle hostage situations.