Security forces are preparing for one of their most challenging assignments in decades -- protecting BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.
A series of low-intensity blasts killed six people at a BJP rally in Patna on the day of Modi’s rally on October 27. According to investigators, continued interrogation of two arrested suspects and subsequent detentions of others across the country point to a larger network, which the Indian Mujahideen (IM) group has allegedly developed through several of its modules to carry out terror attacks in the country.
While Modi was not in the immediate vicinity of the explosions, the message was clear.
"Narendra Modi is way above everyone else on their hitlist," said an officer in the Intelligence Bureau, who declined to be identified as he is not authorised to speak to the media.
"The IM cadres say he (Modi) is actually 1 to 10 on their list. The rest come after that," said the officer, citing confessions of captured militants.
Four days before the explosions at the Patna rally, the Intelligence Bureau sent a letter to state authorities warning them of the threat to Modi, although they did not have specific information.
Modi will lead BJP into a general election due by May 2014 and his enemies will almost certainly be looking for another opportunity to strike.
Even as Modi and the BJP are trying hard to woo the minority voters, the election is shaping up to be a highly charged clash with the Gujarat chief minister and his aggressive Hindu nationalist supporters facing off against their Congress-led rivals, who say the vote is a fight to preserve India's secular foundations.
Much of the battle will be waged at public gatherings. Even in these days of 24-hour news channels and the Internet, Indian election campaigns hinge around rallies.
Modi will address countless throngs in coming months in his race against the Congress-led coalition which is expected to put up Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi as its prime ministerial candidate.
An elite team protecting Modi has been ordered to secure all public meetings using the same tactics of the Special Protection Group that guards former and serving prime ministers and their families along the lines of the US Secret Service.
Spotters in disguise will mingle in the crowds while an advance team will "sanitise" sites six times, the last time an hour before Modi's arrival, a security official said.
"Sewage pipes, manholes, you plug every hole in the ground and above," said the official.
Gandhi has spoken of the deaths of his father (Rajiv Gandhi) and grandmother (Indira Gandhi) and said recently he could be next to fall to the politics of hate. He is guarded by the top-level Special Protection Group.
An attack on either Modi or Gandhi could spark waves of reprisal violence. Ajay Sahni, head of the Delhi-based Institute of Conflict Management, said that given the rings of security, the chance of a direct attack on Modi or Gandhi was low.
"The inner core is very heavily protected," said Sahni, whose institute studies South Asian militant groups.
"It would be hard to penetrate unless the groups have the capacity to project explosives such as missiles. Those are difficult to smuggle around."
The biggest risk was the politicians themselves pushing against the security bubble as they bid to reach out to voters, Sahni said.