Assam blasts compel government to review security


New Delhi : India’s security establishment was Monday reviewing security measures ahead of the general elections that begin next week following three blasts in quick succession in Assam, including in the state’s main city Guwahati, in which seven people were killed.

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The powerful blasts in Guwahati, Dhekiajuli and in Karbi Anglong came at a time when the home ministry had warned of specific terror threats to important installations and targeting of politicians in the run up to and during general elections.

Six people were killed and 30 injured in Assam’s main city of Guwahati around 1.45 p.m. Monday. Less than two hours later, another explosion took place 150 km away in Dhekiajuli town. A third explosion took place in eastern Karbi Anglong district, in which two people were injured.

The blasts shook Assam a day ahead of the United Liberation Front of Asom’s (ULFA) 30th foundation day and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to the state to address a campaign rally in Dibrugarh.

“We knew the ULFA was planning some attacks to marks its foundation day. We acted on some intelligence inputs but this has caught us unawares,” admitted a senior intelligence functionary.

“We are evaluating the mechanisms in place and instructing security forces and the army, especially those positioned along the border, to be doubly alert. In some parts of the northeast, we are strengthening troops.”

Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta has asked the state’s chief secretary P.C. Sharma to strengthen security in Guwahati and other parts of the state.

Just last week a similar motorbike blast, though of lesser intensity, took place a liitle distance away from where External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee was to address an election rally in Guwahati.

Though Home Minister P. Chidambaram has assured political parties there is no need for any panic or alarm and said the government was taking all measures to ensure peaceful polls, Monday’s attack forced the security establishment to re-evaluate measures.

Chidambaram had last week cautioned 40 VVIPs, including leaders of political parties and chief ministers, to take all precautions while campaigning and specifically detailed a list of dos and don’ts while venturing out during electioneering.

Leaders on the radar of various terror groups include the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani, AIADMK chief J. Jayalalitha, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief N. Chandrababu Naidu, union ministers Pranab Mukherjee and A.K. Antony and the chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and West Bengal.

The advisory to some of those on the hit list instructs them to keep police in the loop about their campaign routes, not to accept garlands while campaigning, not to mingle closely with surging crowds and keep security agencies aware of a change of election roadshows.

Assam has long been on the terror radar.

Terror struck on the first day of 2009 when three serial blasts in as many hours triggered by suspected ULFA militants left six people dead and more than 60 injured.

Ironically, the explosions took place a few hours before Chidambaram flew in for his maiden visit as home minister to review the law and order situation. Terrorists appeared to mock the heavy security bandobast put in place for the New Year in the wake of the 26/11 Mumbai carnage.

In October last year, serial bombings rocked the state in which over 80 people were killed.