The men who want to kill Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Islamic extremists are boosting their efforts to target the new premier

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 June, 2014, 10:07pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 June, 2014, 9:07am

During India's long election campaign, Narendra Modi enjoyed a level of security that was just a notch lower than that given to Indian prime ministers, recognition of the death threats he received from Muslim extremists.

Now that he is prime minister, the threat to his life from groups such as the Indian Mujahideen and the Student Islamic Movement of India (Simi) has risen. He is now an even more high-profile target than he was as chief minister of Gujarat where, under his watch, 2,000 Muslims were massacred by Hindu mobs in 2002.

For Islamic extremists, assassinating Modi would be sweet revenge. At a court hearing on May 16 in Bhopal, central India, the day the election campaign ended, 18 Simi members charged with terrorism disrupted the proceedings by shouting, "It's your turn now Modi!" and "Long live the Taliban!"

"Killing Modi has been their goal for years," said an Intelligence Bureau official in Mumbai who did not want to be named. "Now they are re-doubling their efforts because he is prime minister and the impact would be spectacular. But we keep tabs on them, we know what's going on and they won't succeed."

He added that the threat to Modi's life was "significant but under control" because Simi was not as effective a terrorist group as Pakistan-based jihadi groups such as Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed. They, too, have Modi on their list of targets as an "anti-Muslim" figure and have warned that if he became prime minister, they would kill him.

On October 27 last year, five people were killed in a series of explosions in Patna, Bihar. One of the bombs exploded near a park where Modi was to speak.

Indian police said the Indian Mujahideen planted the bombs with Modi as their target.

Extraordinary security arrangements were in place on May 26 when Modi was sworn in as prime minister. About 6,000 security personnel were deployed, along with anti-aircraft guns, a policeman every 20 metres and ground-to-air defence systems. The air space above the presidential palace, where the ceremony took place, was secured by the air force.

Given the tight security around Modi, no assassin stood much chance of getting anywhere near him, said Ajay Sahni, terrorism expert and executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi.

The Indian Mujahideen and Simi lacked the capability to carry out such an attack, he said.

"If you look at these groups, ever since the attack on parliament in 2001, outside of Kashmir, they have not hit a hard target. They have hit only soft targets like markets and bus stations. They don't have the same capacity as terror outfits in Pakistan. But they will keep trying to get Modi to inspire and motivate their members," said Sahni.

The greater danger to Modi, according to Namrata Goswami, research fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi, was if the premier diluted his security protocol.

On a visit to Bhutan this week, Modi was seen on the streets of the capital, Thimpu, mingling on foot and talking to the crowd. Back home, he has made it clear that he wants to reach out to ordinary Indians but has done so through social media.

"In Bhutan, he broke through the security cordon. The problem will be if he wants to reach out to people physically in India the way he did in Bhutan. If he starts feeling constrained by security and starts doing that in India, then the risk will go up," said Goswami.

Sahni added: "If Modi gets sloppy, then we could have a real problem. In the past, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi [both former prime ministers] insisted on diluting their security protocols. Both died."