Smoke rises after a bomb exploded near a public ground where Gujarat’s chief minister and the prime ministerial candidate of BJP Narendra Modi was to address a rally, in Patna, yesterday.
NEW DELHI: Campaigning for India’s tight national election turned violent yesterday when a series of blasts ahead of opposition candidate Narendra Modi’s rally in an eastern Indian city left five people dead and 83 wounded.
At least six crude bombs exploded near a public ground in Patna where tens of thousands of people had gathered to hear Modi as he took his campaign to the big heartland state of Bihar for next summer’s national election.
“There was a blast right behind me. I heard people saying that one of the tyres of a vehicle has burst,” said a witness.
“When I went to the spot, I saw many people lying injured on the ground.”
Television channels showed pictures of shattered windows of buses, smoke billowing and people running in panic.
It was the first outbreak of violence since Modi, the challenger from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, began an aggressive campaign to oust the ruling Congress-led coalition.
To his critics Modi is a deeply polarising figure under whose watch Muslims were massacred in deadly rioting in 2002 in the western state of Gujarat which he has governed for three straight terms. Yesterday, he sought to broaden his appeal, saying Hindus and Muslims both needed to be lifted out of poverty.
“Do you want to fight against poverty or against Hindus?,” he asked. “Poor Muslims have to fight against poverty. Poor Hindus have to fight against poverty.”
Modi did not mention the blasts in his speech, but later called them “deeply saddening and unfortunate” on Twitter. He appealed for peace and calm.
Police inspector general Sushil M Khopde said five people were killed in the blasts. Three unexploded bombs were found at the venue of the rally.
No one has claimed responsibility for the blasts. However, police say they have detained some people for questioning.
The massive rally was intended as a show of strength in Bihar where the governing party broke off a 17-year alliance with the BJP after it picked Modi as its candidate to lead the party.
The state sends 40 lawmakers to the lower house of parliament and could prove decisive in a new government’s formation.
The BJP has picked up support since elevating Modi as its candidate for prime minister last month, but would need allies to form a government, two new opinion polls showed earlier this month.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar yesterday said the serial blasts were aimed at vitiating the atmosphere in Bihar.
He said police were probing the blasts and an alert has been sounded across the state and security tightened further.
“Police is probing the serial blasts and will come out with solid revelation in next 48 hours,” Nitish Kumar told a specially convened press conference here. He also condemned the blasts.
The state government has already sought help of the National Investigation Agency for probing the blasts, he said.
He announced a compensation of `500,000 to the kin of each victim killed in the blasts and said the state would foot the medical expenses of the injured.
“It appeared to us the serial blasts were planned to vitiate the atmosphere and create trouble across Bihar. Those behind the blasts have chosen the day that coincides with the rally. It was a deliberate attempt to create tension in the atmosphere,” Nitish Kumar said.
He said that initial investigation suggests the motive was to create trouble, a matter of serious concern. “It is a blot on the peaceful atmosphere of Bihar,” he added.reuters/IANS