The daring assassination bid on Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu by the outlawed People's War in the temple town of Tirupati on Wednesday has exposed glaring lapses in his security detail.
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Preliminary investigations have revealed that the mandatory checks on the route to be taken by the chief minister's convoy by anti-sabotage and landmine detection squads were not carried out.
Whenever the chief minister in traveling, he is provided with a three-tier security. This is apart from his own proximate security officers.
Naidu is a Z-category protectee. The security cover for him is only a shade below that provided to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Deputy Prime Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa.
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He has been on the PW hit-list ever since he reimposed the ban on the militant outfit in July 1996.
In areas dominated by the Naxalites, local police teams and Greyhounds conduct intensive anti-sabotage checks and combing operations on the routes and venues in the CM's itinerary. A thorough check is conducted a couple of hours before the scheduled arrival of the CM.
Police officers and constables are posted at all strategic locations along the route. Local police teams use sniffer dogs and metal detectors to check for explosives in the vicinity of the CM's route.
One of the chief security officers to the CM always travels with him in the car, but on Wednesday Naidu reportedly told CSO P Umapathi to come in another car as he was taking I-T Minister B Gopalakrishna Reddy and two MLAs -- R Rajasekhar Reddy and Ch Krishnamurthy -- with him.
Though the Chittoor district police provided a bullet-proof car to the CM to go to Tirumala, the car's number plate was not changed, as is usually done.
The chief minister normally moves in a convoy of three to five cars with identical number plates. The CM's car frequently changes its position in the convoy to ward off attacks, but this too was not done on Wednesday.
Naidu was seated in the front seat of the car waiving to passersby. The Naxalites, thus, knew exactly which car to target.
The Ghat road from Tirupati to Tirumala takes some sharp curves and vehicles need to slow down at these curves. Usually, the CM's convoy moves at a speed of 60 km per hour, but Naidu's car had slowed down considerably when it was hit by a series of claymore mine explosions on Wednesday.
Normally, the CM's a convoy includes a jammer vehicle that neutralises any remote-controlled devises in its vicinity.
The jammer is used only in the state capital and it is moved to a district only if the district police make such a request. The Tirupati police did not.
It is another matter that even if a jammer was in place, it could not have been of any use since the Naxalites used a camera flashbulb to detonate the claymore mines.
This is not the first time that the People's War has made a bid on Naidu's life. In 1998, the group had targeted the chief
minister at Kathlapur village in Karimnagar district while he was campaigning for an assembly by-poll in the Metpalli constituency.
In that incident, an advance police party had detected claymore mines hidden in a bullock cart on the route the CM was to take. The Naxalites exploded the mines through a remote control injuring some policemen. Naidu, however, went ahead with his visit to the area and addressed public meetings.
The Naxalites used more powerful claymore mines this time and targeted the car carrying the CM with precision.
Naidu and his colleagues survived with injuries only because they were traveling in a bullet-proof car that took the impact of the blast.
The white Ambassador cars used by the CM are reinforced with several layers of extra metal. The underbelly of the car is covered with a thick layer of metal. It weighs 2,200 kg, as against a standard 1,150 kg Ambassador car.
What makes Wednesday's attack particularly worrisome is the fact that the police in the temple towns of Tirupati and Tirumala did not foresee any threat to the chief minister.
Apparently, they were complacent because they felt that the Naxalites used only the forested areas in Chittoor district.