As a nationwide hunt gets underway for terrorists responsible for the back-to-back attacks first in Bangalore, the country's IT hub, and then the 21 synchronised bombings that ripped through Gujarat's main city of Ahmedabad killing nearly 50 people, the security establishment is bracing for more terror strikes.
A victim is taken to a hospital in Ahmedabad
Within a space of just over an hour, Ahmedabad was ripped apart Saturday evening by 21 coordinated bombings, which claimed at least 50 lives and injured about 200 people, a day after low-intensity blasts rocked Bangalore, the country's IT capital.
An obscure Islamic militant group, the Indian Mujahideen claimed credit for the bombings and emailed several domestic media outlets announcing the attack. Though the email was traced back to an address in Mumbai, investigators were not convinced that the terror outfit was responsible for the blasts maintaining it could well be a red herring with the purpose to throw them off the real trail.
Indian leaders visit bomb victims
Expressing solidarity with the people of Gujarat in their hour of crisis Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Monday airdashed to Ahmedabad and vowed to defeat forces who were aiming to destroy the country's social fabric and praised the people for their resilience.
Along with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Home Minister Shivraj Patil they visited hospitals and met survivors of the serial bombings.
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi surprised even his detractors with his unusual restraint following the serial blasts as tensions between the Hindu majority and Muslim minority still haunt the state, where riots in 2002 left an estimated 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, dead.
Calls for calm
Speaking in measured tones, Modi appealed for calm and asked people to cooperate with the investigation:
"We will track down the enemies of humanity and ensure that they get maximum punishment. We will not rest on this score. The government has decided to give Rs 500,000 to the families of the deceased and Rs 50,000 to those injured. Once again I would like to assure country men that Gujarat will keep moving ahead in the path of progress and development."
However, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP blamed the blasts on the Congress-led government's alleged soft stance on terrorism and said tougher laws like the Prevention of Terrorism Act or POTA was necessary. The last three terror attacks have occurred in BJP-ruled states - Rajasthan in May, Karnataka and now Gujarat.
Search for perpetrators
But Congress spokesperson Abishek Singhvi said this was not the time for finger pointing but introspection:
"I think it is a complete mistake to have knee-jerk reactions. We are the world’s largest democracy. We are also one of the major countries afflicted with major terrorism. So let’s have our responses more mature. It’s completely wrong to start blaming laws for terrorism. If only a deterrent or stringent law like POTA was the answer for prevention of terrorism or controlling it, then we would not have what we so many times – the whole string of parliament, Akshadharm and Raghunath temple – when POTA was in place during the NDA regime. So it’s nothing but political rhetoric. Let’s not play cheap politics on terrorism."
The well-coordinated terrorist attacks across India in the last year have led the security establishment to conclude that the perpetrators are the same, but it finds itself lost on how to crack the backbone of this new breed of terrorists who are striking at will.
The modus operandi in the last few attacks has been disturbingly similar - bombs placed on bicycles and in tiffin boxes to create havoc leaving behind a bloody trail of death and destruction.
Nearly 550 people have been killed in 11 well-coordinated terrorist attacks across India since the 2005 bombings in the national capital, but no case has been resolved and not one terrorist arrested.