JAIPUR, India – Police imposed a daylong curfew in the western Indian city of Jaipur on Wednesday to prevent any retaliatory violence after a series of blasts in crowded areas left at least 80 people dead.
Authorities suspect Islamic militants were behind the blasts, and they moved quickly to stop any potential clashes between the city's Hindu majority and its sizable Muslim minority. Police were deployed in force and people kept off the streets of Jaipur's old walled city, where all seven bombs went off on Tuesday.
The bombers may have been aiming "to create communal tension," said Vasundhara Raje, the chief minister of Rajasthan state, of which Jaipur is the capital. "But there is peace in the city. The curfew is a precaution."
With police seemingly everywhere, streets in the old city were largely devoid of pedestrians, and shops throughout the rest of Jaipur were also shuttered.
"Neither the Hindus or the Muslims here want to fight," said Mohiuddin Qureshi, a gemstone trader who works in a market that was bombed.
"Our lives are together, our businesses are together. This is the work of outsiders," said Qureshi, who went to 10 burials Wednesday.
The attack came a week before India's foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee, was to visit Pakistan to discuss the rivals' four-year peace process.
Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon said Mukherjee would press Islamabad to act against Pakistan-based Islamic militant groups, which India accuses Pakistan of backing.
"The absence of violence and stopping cross-border terrorism is a very high priority for India," Menon told reporters.
But he stopped short of alleging a Pakistani hand in Tuesday's attack.
"We are still in the process of investigating. I don't want to jump to conclusions," he said.
Police in Jaipur have so far questioned nearly a dozen people. But no arrests have been made, and Raje told reporters that authorities only "have some slender leads."
Nearly 200 people were wounded in the explosions in the city in western India known for its pink-hued palaces, said A.K. Jain, a top Rajasthan police official. Police said an eighth bomb was found and defused.
"Obviously, it's a terrorist plot," A.S. Gill, the police chief of Rajasthan, said hours after the attack. "The way it has been done, the attempt was to cause the maximum damage to human life."
The blasts began around 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. One went off at a market near a temple dedicated to the Hindu monkey god Hanuman. Tuesday is the day of worship set aside for the deity and the temple was crowded with people offering prayers on the way home from work.
Brajesh Kumar, 15, was on his way to pray at the temple when the bomb exploded.
"I heard a big noise and then I felt something pierce my leg and chest," he said from a hospital bed Wednesday. He had broken a rib and shrapnel in his feet and chest, he said.
Another bomb exploded near the city's Johari Bazaar jewelry market, a popular tourist attraction. The tourist season ended in March, however, and there was no indication that foreigners were caught in any of the bombings.
Bombing sites were littered with dropped shopping bags, mangled bicycles, damaged cars and overturned bicycle rickshaws, the most popular mode of transport in the crowded lanes of Jaipur.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, as is the case with most bombings in India.
But soon after the attack, authorities were suggesting blame would eventually fall on Pakistan and the Islamic militant groups India accuses it of backing.
"One can't rule out the involvement of a foreign power," said India's junior home minister, Sriprakash Jaiswal, using language commonly understood to refer to Pakistan.
Jaiswal, speaking just hours after the attack, refused to say if he was talking about Pakistan. But he suggested the bombings were connected to previous attacks on India, saying that "the blasts are part of a big conspiracy."
Kashmir, the disputed Himalayan region at the center of the India-Pakistan rivalry, has in the past week also seen some of the worst violence in recent memory. Indian soldiers came under fire trying to stop militants from crossing the frontier with Pakistan on Thursday, and 11 people were killed in fighting between security forces and Islamic militants in the Himalayan region on Sunday and Monday.
Indian authorities say Pakistan-based Islamic extremist groups were behind those incidents and a spate of bombings that have killed nearly 400 people in this predominantly Hindu country of 1.1 billion people since 2005. Pakistan, an overwhelmingly Muslim country, denies any role in the bombings.
The attacks have ranged from July 2006 train bombings that killed nearly 200 people in Mumbai, India's financial center, to small blasts like the one that struck a Muslim shrine in Rajasthan last year, killing two people.
Each new bombing has brought fears of a new outbreak of violence between Hindus and Muslims, which has sporadically bled India throughout its history.
Authorities quickly ordered alerts in New Delhi, Mumbai and several other cities. Security was also stepped up at airports and railway stations across the country.