Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, who emerged unscathed from the Shiv Sena’s agitation against actor Shah Rukh Khan last week, now faces a larger challenge.
As the government led by him completes 100 days in power, the Opposition has said it has failed to protect the state from terror.
A year-and-a-half after 26/11, the latest terror attack, at a bakery in Pune on Saturday, killed nine people and injured around 60. The government’s critics said the state leadership has failed despite the experience of the 26/11 attacks.
The Opposition has called the blast a slap in the face of the government, saying it has once again failed to protect its citizens.
While most of the criticism is being aimed at Chavan, his deputy, R.R. Patil also faces the brunt of the criticism. Patil lost his job after 26/11 but got it back after the Assembly Elections. Saturday’s Pune blast comes within 100 days of his taking the home minister’s job in the state secretariat.
“In the last decade, there have been 40-odd blasts in the state, the latest being in Pune. Even after 26/11, and the promise that the state would be terror-free, the government has once again failed to protect its people,” said BJP leader Gopinath Munde.
After 26/11, the state government has put in place a slew of measures to strengthen security agencies, from the purchase of weapons and equipment, to the restructuring of the police force.
It created a special force along the lines of the National Security Guard, is preparing to upgrade the Anti-Terrorism Squad, began direct recruitment for 85 posts in the state intelligence unit, and created the post of DGP (Special Operations) to handle terror situations. Patil chairs a weekly meeting to review internal security and law and order.
Experts say, despite all this, chinks remains in the state’s security apparatus.
“You never get an intelligence input that there will a specific target on a specific day, you only get information nuggets. It is then up to the police, how they put those inputs together. The local police need to be better prepared to address the security threat,” said former home secretary U. K. Mukhopadhya.
Opposition demands chief secy’s head
With help from the Opposition, the heat from Saturday’s explosion at Pune is beginning to singe the state government.
The major Opposition parties have attacked the government over the incident, and called for action against Chief Secretary J.P. Dange, who they say did not respond to the crisis in Pune.
“Dange was busy with a felicitation programme organised for him at Akola. And he stayed there even after hearing of the blast. The government should take action against him,” Opposition leader Eknath Khadse told reporters on Monday.
“The security of the common man is not being taken seriously. The police force has been politicised,” Khadse added. He said the 16-member panel set up to study the Ram Pradhan committee’s report on 26/11, has not met even once since it was formed in December.
The Shiv Sena claimed even though the government had prior information about a possible terror attack, it chose to deploy policemen outside theatres (for My Name is Khan).
“The government deployed thousands of policemen at theatres to stop Sainiks who were merely waving black flags, despite having prior information about a terror threat to Pune,” Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray said.
Dissenting voices were even raised in the customary pre-Union Budget meeting for state MPs that was held on Monday. Opposition MPs walked out of the meeting after the government refused to discuss Saturday’s attack.
Sena Rajya Sabha member Manohar Joshi said terrorists had benefited because police forces had been diverted to keep the city safe during the release of My Name is Khan. “We’ve been discussing terrorism for years. This time, we wanted to discuss concerns in the wake of the Pune blast,” Joshi told media.
BJP leader Gopinath Munde said: “We must go beyond the routine and debate issues that threaten us.”