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No place for propaganda in PM’s security breach probe.

 Political grandstanding over the matter has led to the obfuscation of the real issues

Written by Yashovardhan Azad |
Updated: January 11, 2022 5:01:46 am

For a full 20 minutes, the PM, one of the most threatened protectees in the world, sat in his bulletproof vehicle with the Special Protection Group commandos as the last frontier of protection. (PTI)

On the bitter cold wintry afternoon of January 5, under a smoky grey sky, the prime minister’s convoy came to a grinding halt on an overbridge along the Moga Ferozepur Highway, 30 km short of Hussainiwala, a village by the river Sutlej on the Indo-Pak border. For a full 20 minutes, the PM, one of the most threatened protectees in the world, sat in his bulletproof vehicle with the Special Protection Group commandos as the last frontier of protection. Meanwhile, a few metres ahead, protesters were being persuaded by police officers to lift the road blockade.

Those who argue that such lapses have occurred in Varanasi and other places too, fail to see the vulnerability of the PM being trapped on an overbridge in a sensitive state right on the border. Frequent droppings of arms and drugs by drones from across underline the grave threat. Even more lethal is the free reign given to rogue terror brigands by the ISI to create mayhem along the border from Punjab to Jammu.

Three wars have been fought around Hussainiwala. The road linking Pakistan is closed and the border outpost organises the beating retreat border ceremony every day. Shaheed Bhagat Singh with his comrades was cremated here in 1931 by the harried British, fearing an uprising over their hanging. It is his memorial that the PM intended to visit that day, along with attending a public meeting.

The security breach has two glaring aspects. First, the PM was too close to the confrontation point and second, the police was not clearing the protestors but negotiating with them, while the convoy was stationary. Both would be the main issues for enquiry later.

Why was the PM not kept away at a safe distance from the road blockade? Why was the road journey undertaken? Why was the road not cleared? Was there any prior intelligence?

Intelligence regarding protests by farmers was known even to the common man, let alone state and central intelligence agencies. Specific intelligence regarding the blockade point perhaps would not have been available. Most PMs, however, do decide on travelling in such situations because protests are a part of our democratic culture.

Due to inclement weather, a road journey was the alternative, and this contingency was already planned, and rehearsals were done. Then, why didn’t the state police keep the road clear? The route clearance was given by the police, but in practice, no route of 111 km can be fully sanitised. But, with modern communication systems available, as well as a state police contingent scouring the terrain in advance, the route is cleared way ahead of the PM convoy. According to Punjab authorities, the farmers suddenly came on the road and blocked it. Even if that is true, it was the task of the advance police party to clear the blockade much before the PM arrived at the point.

The glaring lapse is the hesitancy to clear the blockade, even with force, if required. The PM’s carcade cannot be stalled for even 20 seconds, let alone 20 minutes. Dithering and not taking action was a grave lapse on the part of the district SP and collector.

It is crucial to know exactly when the carcade got information of the roadblock and why immediate evacuation drills were not put in place to move the PM to the nearest designated safe house. The SPG officer should have decided in consultation with the central and state representatives in the carcade. This is the second grave lapse — allowing the PM’s car to reach so near the confrontation point.

Where, then, lies the blame? It is laid down clearly that while the SPG is responsible for the PM’s proximate security, the overall responsibility for his protection lies with the state in whose jurisdiction the PM is. While the Ferozepur collector and SP have to answer why the blockade was not removed, IG SPG should face an enquiry over why the PM’s car could not be pulled away from the overbridge.

Why the police leadership is hesitant to take action is a larger question. The posting of the right leaders is sacrosanct. While the Punjab police chief position has seen yet another change, the SPG chief’s tenure, nearing six years, has been inordinately long.

Political grandstanding over the matter has led to the obfuscation of the real issues. As soon as the PM came back to Delhi, the Centre let loose a battery of ministers, levelling preposterous charges against the Punjab government of conspiracy and deliberate plans to thwart his visit to the state. The state of Punjab countered, stating that the road journey was a last-minute decision and the real reason for aborting the visit was a low turnout at the PM’s rally. BJP and Congress spokespersons traded charges on TV channels, leaving the common man groping for the truth.

The tendency of shying away from bringing professionals in such matters is perhaps more prominently seen in India than in any other country. Instead of ministers airing their views, the Centre should have asked the secretary, security, cabinet secretariat, an IPS officer, to give out the facts before the press. It would have been professional and sans politics. Punjab could have done the same, but the panel announced by the state did not even have a police officer.

Some retired police officers have written to the President alleging a conspiracy by the border state against the PM. They see a sinister design behind the poor security arrangements. Some others have referred to farmers’ angst being expressed through the blockade. Both miss the truth. A professional cannot abdicate his responsibility. Clearing the route and keeping the PM away from the hotspot was the job of professionals and should have been done despite any pressure or external influence. Also, the farmers’ angst is much appreciated, but the sanctity of democratic protest cannot be stretched to the point of blocking the PM’s or President’s convoy anywhere and everywhere.

It is critical now to pinpoint the lapses and not allow the matter to be shrouded in propaganda and controversies. The guilty need to be punished and it should be ensured that such a grave lapse is not repeated.

India’s federal structure is sacrosanct. Ideal security arrangements for the PM in any state require full cooperation between the Centre and the state. The largest democracy in the world deserves to have a harmonious relationship between the Centre and states to tackle internal security matters objectively and expeditiously. Synergy is the need of the hour to address the issue of security holistically, to prove that our nation as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

 

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