India’s security establishment is gearing up for the month-long drama in the world’s biggest democracy.
Over 5,000 candidates will campaign across the country for a seat in the 545-member Lok Sabha. Providing security to the Lok Sabha hopefuls on the road will be a Herculean task.
If the Indian Premier League bosses stick to their guns, and the timing of the event, it will be an added burden on the forces.
As the first step to ensure the security cover is effective, the officials would issue a warning to all state governments, political parties and senior leaders to meticulously stick to their security drill.
"We would be issuing the advisory," an official at the ministry of home affairs said. The advisory would ask the leaders to stick to the rules, avoid impromptu tours and detours and to stick within the security cordon.
The apprehensions of the security agencies was apparent when a security official joked, "Not that they will… but it is our job to caution them."
"It is going to be very stressful," predicted Arun Bhagat, who headed the Intelligence Bureau through the late 1990s.
Executive director of Institute for Conflict Management, a Delhi-based think tank, Ajai Sahni said incidents have taken place in the past when breach of protocol has had serious consequences.
Former Prime Minister (PM) Rajiv Gandhi's assassination is a case in the point. Gandhi was at a public meeting at Sriperumbudur in 1991 when an LTTE suicide bomber, allowed to come too close to him, detonated the explosives strapped around her waist.
"During elections, political leaders insist on diluting the norms, placing themselves at enhanced risk," Sahni said. Former IB chief Bhagat agrees.
"VIPs move about, make last minute changes to their itinerary or end up hours behind schedule," he said.
"These are violations that the agencies have to provide for," an official familiar with procedures relating to VIP security said.
Post-26/11, the home ministry has tried to revamp the security system. But Sahni and Bhagat insisted capacity building at the grassroots level has not yet come about.