The Taj Mahal is under threat and this time, the danger is real. Recent intelligence inputs suggest that the Taj is the third most threatened structure in the country.
The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and various nuclear installations have been on top of the list for many years. While there have been random threats to the monument in the past, it has never made it to the list of top ten threatened structures. And when it did, it went straight to the third slot.
"When we interrogated terrorists earlier this year, they said that striking the Taj would help them target a large number of tourists in one stroke and also send out a global fear perception about India. Moreover, the Taj is irreplaceable," a senior Home Ministry official told the Hindustan Times. Agencies have now been asked to step up security at the Taj, the official said.
On the list of the top five protected places, the BARC is first and all the nuclear installations in India are jointly put at the second place. The Taj is third, while the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi and the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi/Babri Masjid site in Ayodhya are fourth and fifth respectively, the official said.
According to intelligence reports, Islamic fundamentalists groups like the Lashkar-e-Tayebba, Hizbul Mujahideen and the Jaish-e-Mohammed pose the biggest threat to these structures. "It is usually the Arab Sunni Wahabi groups, based in Pakistan, who are targeting these structures," an official said. In addition, there have been threats to the Ram Janmabhoomi/Babri Masjid site from Hindu fundamentalists, he said.
The list of top five threatened persons is easier to guess. Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, President APJ Abdul Kalam, member of Parliament Rahul Gandhi and BJP leader LK Advani.
President Kalam is in the list not only because he is the head of state and from a minority community but also because he is very active. Similarly, Advani is under threat because he is seen as "a hardliner and the BJP's likely candidate for prime minister," an official said.
On an average, intelligence agencies and the police received between 15 and 20 threats in 2006 for each of these protected persons and of these, about five in each case were graded "very, very serious".
A number of these threats came by e-mail and through telephone calls, though 92 per cent of them later turned out to be hoax. "Anyway, we cannot afford to assume that any call or e-mail is hoax. We put in place the requisite security drills and investigations as soon as we get the threat," said the official.
Email Nandini R Iyer: nandiniiyer @hindustantimes.com