A man in custody blamed an outlawed Islamic group for ordering a series of deadly bomb blasts near an Indian opposition rally by a Hindu nationalist leader, police said on Monday – a grim prelude to national elections next spring.
The six crude bombs killed six people and injured 83 when they exploded on Sunday just before Narendra Modi’s campaign rally, where hundreds of thousands of people had gathered in the centre of Bihar’s capital of Patna.
No group has claimed responsibility for the blasts, which caused confusion until the rally went ahead as scheduled with a speech by Modi. BJP officials said they kept news of the blasts quiet until after the rally to avoid panicking the crowd.
Modi is waging an aggressive campaign to become India’s next prime minister, backed by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, and critics worry his rise could exacerbate sectarian tensions between India’s majority Hindus and its 138 million Muslims.
After the blasts, police detained three men in eastern Bihar state and two more in neighbouring Jharkhand, where officers raided a home and discovered a “huge amount of explosives,” senior Patna police official Manu Maharaj said.
“The main motive for the bombings was to create panic and cause a stampede,” Maharaj said.
Maharaj said one of the suspects confessed to being involved in the bombings, which the suspect said were ordered by the Indian Mujahideen, which has been linked to the banned Pakistan-based Islamist rebel group Lashkar-e-Taiba.
The group has not claimed responsibility.
The BJP accused Bihar law enforcement of failing to provide adequate security at the rally, but Maharaj said all possible safety measures were followed.
Modi offered condolences to the victims in a Twitter message after the rally. His speech focused on blasting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for high inflation and accusing Bihar’s leadership of betraying the BJP.
Bihar’s top elected official, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, broke with the BJP six months ago over Modi’s candidacy, which he suggested could upset communal relations within India’s secular democracy of 1.2 billion people.
Modi, who has served three terms as Gujarat’s leader, is credited with turning his western state into a haven for investment and industry.
But for years Modi has dodged allegations that he and his Hindu fundamentalist party colleagues looked the other way and even encouraged marauding mobs of Hindus as they killed and burned their way through Muslim neighbourhoods in Gujarat in 2002, leaving more than 1,100 people dead in one of India’s worst outbursts of communal violence.
No evidence directly links Modi to the violence, and he says he has no responsibility for the killings. The Supreme Court criticised his government, however, for failing to prosecute Hindu rioters who justified the rampage as revenge for a train fire that killed 60 Hindus. An independent probe in 2006 determined the fire was an accident, but a 2008 state government commission said it was planned by Muslims.