PATNA: India's opposition slammed security arrangements Monday after six people were killed by bombs at a rally by their leader Narendra Modi, fuelling fears of a bloody build-up to next year's elections.
Seven small explosive devices, which were activated by remote control, caused panic on Sunday when they were detonated shortly before Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Modi addressed supporters in the state of Bihar.
The death toll from the bombings, including people caught up in the ensuing stampede, rose to six overnight after the body of another victim was recovered.
While Modi himself was not injured by the blasts in the state capital Patna, leaders of his Hindu nationalist party expressed outrage on Monday that such an attack could take place at a high-profile event.
Sushma Swaraj, the party's leader in parliament, tweeted that the attack represented a "gross intelligence failure", while BJP president Rajnath Singh said "extra precautions should have been taken" given Modi's status as BJP candidate in next year's general elections.
"It is a case of gross under preparedness by the state, not even the minimum was done," BJP spokeswoman Nirmala Sitharaman told AFP.
The government rejected accusations that it had erred, however, with Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde insisting that "the centre has provided adequate security" to Modi, according to the PTI news agency.
Modi's speech marked the start of the BJP's campaign in Bihar state, a key battleground in the general election due by next May at the latest.
His appearance had been hotly anticipated, as Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar broke off a 17-year alliance with the BJP earlier this year after the party choose the hardliner Modi as its election frontman.
While a favourite with India's business community, Modi is despised by many Muslims as he was chief minister of Gujarat in 2002, when the state was engulfed by communal riots. Rights groups say up to 2,000 people were killed in the violence, mostly Muslims.
Indian media, citing unnamed police officials, reported on Monday that investigators believe the blasts in Patna could have been the work of the Indian Mujahideen, a home grown Islamist network.
Police say two people have been arrested and some 13 others detained for questioning, while the federal government has deployed anti-terror forces to Patna to investigate.
One of the arrested, known only as Imtiaz, has "given solid evidence" during interrogation helping investigations, local police official Manu Maharaj told AFP.
The Patna blasts have heightened fears that next year's elections in what is the world's biggest democracy could be mired in violence.
Rahul Gandhi, expected to lead the ruling Congress party into the polls, told supporters last week that his life could be in danger evoking the memory of the assassination of two ancestors who served as prime minister.
Rahul's father Rajiv was killed by Tamil suicide bombers while on the campaign trail in 1991. His grandmother Indira Gandhi was shot dead by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984 in revenge for an army assault on the Golden Temple in Amritsar
Electoral rallies can often draw crowds of hundreds of thousands in India, but security measures are rudimentary.
Screening machines are often either entirely absent, or broken. And while leaders take to the stage with bodyguards, they rarely speak behind protective glass.
The attack in Patna was not the only security embarrassment on Sunday. The chief minister of the southern state of Kerala needed hospital treatment when opposition supporters pelted him with stones. (AFP)