| Chandrababu Naidu is surrounded by aides on way to the airport in Tirupati on Thursday. (Reuters)
Hyderabad, Oct. 2: They nestled comfortably in a flowerbed along the road. Neither police nor sniffer dogs had a clue that the decorated eight-by-four-feet strip of soil hid something as deadly as mines.
A day after the blasts that sent . Chandrababu Naidu’s car careening off the road near the temple town of Tirupati, it appears that the Andhra Pradesh chief minister had a providential escape.
The explosions may not have killed their target but they left a gaping hole in the multi-layered security arrangements. Investigations have revealed that the claymore (a type of anti-personnel) mines were placed in a flowerbed along the road to Tirumala at least two weeks ago. Only the wire leads were connected recently and taken to a distance of 50 to 100 metres, police contend.
“It went unnoticed by our surveillance checks conducted by sniffer dogs, bomb squads and periphery squads thrice,” said Chandrasekhar Reddy, the deputy superintendent of police of Chittoor district.
Reddy added that the People’s War Group had laid claymore mines at five places. “After checking all the flowerbeds and other recent civil works along the 18-km Ghat Road (where the blasts occurred), it was revealed that the PW had laid claymore mines at five spots,” he said.
The DIG of Cuddapah range, Narayana, has been asked to probe the security lapses in sterilising the route to Tirumala.
The police suspect that PWG extremists, posing as horticulture workers of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam, may have planted the mines.
The flowerbeds and green cover have been laid specially for pilgrims visiting the Venkateswara temple for the annual Brahmotsavam festival. Investigators are also probing the possible role of temple staff in placing the mines.
Investigations in Chittoor and Tirumala revealed that the conspiracy to attack Naidu’s convoy was hatched two months ago at the PWG plenum in the Nallamala forests. Sources said the outfit chose to trigger the blasts at Tirumala as Naidu has to use the road to reach the temple. Temple conventions ban the use of airways in Tirumala.
According to police sources, a team of five hardcore Naxalites shadowed Naidu from morning yesterday, following him to all the functions he attended and even to a house in Tirupati where his mother lived. “It appears like an operation by three teams. Since five other location of claymore mines were discovered by the police, at least two other teams might have been in place to trigger the mines,” said an official.
Investigators believe the suspects may have got away by the bypass to Chittoor, 75 km away, on a two-wheeler. “They could have gone to Chennai via Chittoor, or to Karnataka via Punganur or into the forests and crossed over into Tamil Nadu,” said a senior police official in Tirupati. The temple town is about 125 km from Chennai and 110 km from the Karnataka border. The route through the forests to Tamil Nadu is roughly 40 km, but it has to be negotiated on foot.
This was the second attempt on Naidu’s life. The earlier attack came during a poll campaign in 1998 in Karimnagar district when similar directional claymore mines placed in a bullock cart were triggered. However, the police had detected them beforehand.
The police say yesterday’s blasts could have occurred even if officials in charge of the chief minister’s security had brought the remote jammer vehicle from Hyderabad. They say the vehicle — which usually precedes Naidu’s car and disrupts all signals, thus blocking the operation of remote-controlled devices — may not have been effective yesterday as the mines were triggered by a flash gun of a still camera.
The attack is expected to hasten the re-entry of the proposal that Naidu use a helicopter from his Jubilee Hills residence to the state secretariat. The proposal had been dropped following public criticism and work on helipads near his residence and the secretariat was stopped. “The cabinet is likely to sit and review the situation and pursue the proposal once again,” said a senior official of the chief minister’s office.
Naidu’s name is on top of a long Naxalite hit list. Official statistics show that eight members of his cabinet, 72 of the 182 Telugu Desam Party legislators, 31 of the 91 Congress MLAs and four of the 12 BJP legislators besides 43 active politicians and 26 senior police and IAS officials figure on the hit list.