India's security establishment has been reviewing security measures ahead of general elections taking place from April 16 to May 13 after eight people were killed in three successive blasts in the north-eastern state of Assam on Monday. The home ministry has warned of specific terror threats to important establishments and the targeting of politicians in the run up to and during the general elections.
Police stand by at main opposition BJP campaign meeting
With just a week to go before the first leg of the five-phase elections begins, India is on especially high alert in the light of terror threats.
Home Minister P Chidambaram has cautioned 40 VIPS, including leaders of political parties, chief ministers and ministers, to take all precautions during their election campaigns and has detailed a list of dos and don'ts to take into account.
The advisory instructs some on the list to keep police in the loop about their campaign routes, to not accept garlands while campaigning, to not mingle closely with surging crowds and to keep security agencies aware of any changes regarding election road-shows.
At a recent rally held on the outskirts of Delhi by the head of the regional Samajwadi Party, Mulayam Singh Yadav, one of the 40 VIPs who have to take special care, the crowds were thin. The dais from which Yadav spoke was far from the crowd:
Hustle and bustle part and parcel of Indian elections
Political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan, who has been chronicling elections for over two decades, said it was difficult to imagine an Indian election taking place without hustle and bustle.
“It is important to keep a sense of history: Rajiv Gandhi, in 1991, was assassinated when he went amidst a crowd where there was a suicide bomber waiting for him. The recent tensions and events in India and neighbouring countries have weighed quite heavily on the home minister and the security agencies.”
“Indian elections have a carnival-like atmosphere; they have people giving garlands, or leaders walking amid crowds and people running up to give a petition. So we have to see whether the thrill and chase of the election, the contact between the leader and the masses actually gets inhibited in some way.”
Government measures will not change much
Ajay Sahni, a terrorism expert and executive director of the Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management, said the government’s warnings and measures would not have a major impact.
“What basically happens over here is that people are made far more aware of the precautions that need to be taken. Most incidents occur because of an unwillingness to follow protocol. These protocols do in some measure require precautions to be taken. But they do not prevent you from electioneering and they do not prevent you from political meetings.”
India's general elections have been staggered to enable the optimum mobilisation of security personnel on polling days in sensitive areas such as Jammu and Kashmir and regions affected by Maoist insurgencies.
Officials have warned that the deteriorating security environment in Afghanistan and Pakistan could have repercussions in India. With an estimated two million police and paramilitary personnel expected to fan out to protect candidates, election officials and voters, everyone is keeping their fingers crossed.