Barely a few kilometres from the India-Pakistan border, the convoy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was blocked in the middle of a flyover by a bunch of protesters even as Punjab Police personnel were later seen sipping tea in company of the same protesters, many of whom were blocking the convoy of PM and some had even charged towards the convoy with sticks in hand and a blood-thirsty attitude.
What All Could Have Happened in Those 20 Minutes
Twenty minutes is a long time to potentially target a high-profile VVIP especially when his convoy is stuck, his car is in a static position in the middle of an elevated flyover and the place is near the international border infamous for drone-based smuggling. Therefore, before getting into the nitty-gritty of the sheer level of callousness that was on display not just by the officials on ground but also their bosses and political masters, one is forced to wonder the worse case scenarios which could have taken shape when the convoy was stuck in such a manner that it was not even in a position to turn back smoothly and move away from the danger zone.
Over the years, Punjab as a state has increasingly been sucked into a bottomless pit of radicalism, anarchy and lawlessness coupled with easy flow of cross-border narcotics and weapons, through both the international border as well as drones. Pakistan, meanwhile, is desperate to revive the Khalistan movement and wreak havoc in Punjab now that their Kashmir plot has gone for a toss.
Is it too farfetched to envisage a possible scenario where someone could have used this opportunity to throw an incendiary device or a grenade or even attempt a kamikaze-type drone strike or a fidayeen-style suicide mission targeting the Prime Minister? Or was it a dry run for a sinister plot planned for sometime in future?
The Pattern: From Red Fort Saga to PM’s Security Compromise
In a way, there is a pattern in the whole scheme of things. From the ruckus that was created in the name of anti-CAA protests based on horrendously false narratives, even when the law was aimed at protecting persecuted religious minorities in neighbouring states, to Delhi riots when then US President Donald Trump was in town, to the ruckus created at Red Fort on Republic Day last year followed by insult to national flag, to the siege of Delhi in the name of protests against farm laws, each of these had an ulterior agenda and was not just restricted to the immediate issue only.
The farm protests, especially in Punjab, were increasingly taking a communal colour with deliberate attempts being made to stoke discord between Hindus and Sikhs, a key objective of Khalistanis and Pakistan’s deep state. Later, even as Prime Minister Modi repealed the farm laws and stated that he was doing it in the greater interest of national security, it apparently seemed that for some, they were literally robbed of issues that they thought were perfect to piggyback upon to create internal discord in India. Worse, anything that is done in India now in the name of ‘protesting farmers’ gets justified.
Farm Protest Saga to Alleged Sacrileges and Blast
Repeal of farm laws was expected to usher in peace. But it was not to be so. In a strange turn of events, the end of farm protests was followed by alleged incidents of sacrileges in Punjab, with the event at Kapurthala where a young man was brutally beaten to death eventually proving to be nothing but a false alarm. Here too, one could witness attempts to stoke religious sentiments that were on the verge of spiralling out of control. The political establishment in Punjab did little to contain it.
The terror attack in a court in Ludhiana came next. The intensity of the blast that blew away most of the wall of the toilet indicated that the nature of material used for the blast could have been RDX. Yet, instead of getting to the bottom of it from day one, the political establishment of Punjab preferred to give political colour to the blast even when it was known how explosives and weapons along with narcotics were being sneaked into from across the border by the use of drones with impunity.
All along, what has been appalling is the manner in which the top brass of Punjab Police played second fiddle and preferred toeing the line of the political regime. It is a sorry state of affair for a police force which was once considered to be one of the finest in the country. Its degeneration over the years has been appalling!
Who Masterminded the Convoy Blockade?
Seems when nothing else worked to create discord beyond a point, came the incident of the compromise with the security of the Prime Minister of India and it once again reflected poorly on the state of affairs in Punjab Police. The protocols associated with the security of any convoy in which the Prime Minister of India is travelling are clearly laid down and the responsibility of sanitising the routes, making sure that it is clear of any kind of disruptions, keeping a hawk-eye on it to take cognisance of any emerging situation, deploying security personnel on both sides of the road at regular intervals, calling in reserve battalions and central forces if needed, holding constant communication between state-level security agencies and SPG officials, are all routine and time-tested affairs. Politics or politicisation of the same has never been part of it. There is always a Plan-B and Plan-C to make sure that the security of Prime Minister’s convoy is not compromised in any manner.
Moreover, the route that is to be taken by the convoy of Prime Minister is kept confidential and the leak of the same is a serious breach of not just protocols but also trust. What happened in Punjab, nevertheless, was exactly that. The manner in which the protesters had gathered in huge numbers to block the convoy of PM Modi, which was precariously stuck for 20 minutes, could either mean that the protesters were deliberately brought to block the route of PM’s convoy or the state-level agencies had deliberately given clearance to SPG for taking that route even while knowing that there are major disturbances on that route. Either way, not just the Punjab Police but the highest office of the Government of Punjab has to answer questions and give clarifications. Who masterminded all of it is something that the country deserves to know.
When Prime Minister of India visits any state, not only the concerned chief minister is informed of the same well in advance, but he or she is kept in the loop for all the arrangements made in the state for the Prime Minister. Sadly, some of the statements or rather utterances by the chief minister of Punjab post that incident were deplorable.
Mixing Political Animosity with Security Protocols of PM is Alarming
The Punjab incident is a glaring example of how political animosity and bickering are increasingly getting enmeshed with security protocols. In certain respect, there seems to be a clear-cut objective to pin down the Centre and illustrate sheer disdain for it by certain state-level dispensations. Security of the elected Prime Minister of India can never be allowed to be at the mercy of political whims of the state where he is visiting. Playing with the security of the Prime Minister is akin to playing with the sovereignty of the country.
Was it Aimed at Triggering Reactionary Action by SPG?
One shudders to think what would have happened if the static vehicle of the Prime Minister was targeted for any sinister plot. Was it all a dry run for the same to test the alacrity of the SPG (Special Protection Group)? Was it made to test the patience of SPG? Or was it aimed at triggering reactionary firing by SPG at the charging men? How would the narrative have been shaped after that? Would it have been like ‘Modi’s men gunned down innocent farmers’? Was the toolkit already in place to amplify that? Points to ponder.
Onus is Now on the Centre to Show Its Writ
For a country which has a history of assassination of Prime Ministers in the past, and a state where a chief minister was assassinated in similar fashion, more alacrity and professionalism should have been shown by the Government of Punjab. The Centre is not the summation of states but is the centrifugal force which acts as the glue that binds the federal states together as Republic of India. Any attempt to target the head of the Central Government by any state-level regime, which played with its security, is akin to borderline treason and such dispensation needs to be shown its place lest such misadventures become a norm than an exception. The onus is now on the Centre to show its writ with demonstrable action rather than using this issue as a poll plank.
Compromising PM’s Security is Akin to Compromising Sovereignty
In the last half a decade Prime Minister Modi-led NDA government has taken unprecedented steps in terms of massively modernising Indian Armed Forces, it has taken critical decisions such as abrogating Article 370, altered the threshold of counter-terror response mechanism by giving green signals for cross-border strikes deep into Pakistan’s terror incubation centres, cornered Pakistan diplomatically worldwide, taken unprecedented steps in terms of deployment and induction of modern weapon systems along India-China border, countered China’s aggressive stances in border, neutralised most of the top- and middle-rung leaderships of terror outfits operating in Jammu and Kashmir, unleashed war on Pakistan’s cross-border counterfeit currency and narcotics syndicates as well as their sleeper cells operating in India.
In such a scenario, it is all but natural that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a prime target for India’s adversaries and utmost vigil is needed for his protection. Knowingly however, if Punjab government resorts to such tactics to compromise his security as it happened in Punjab, should we call it callousness or complicity of the administration? Should it not be termed facilitating a sinister plot against the PM? What would the US Federal Government have done with any state administration or its Governor in US, if it were to compromise the security of the President of United States? What would Russia or China or France have done?
Where is the Accountability of DGP and Chief Secretary?
Last but not the least is the issue of accountability of top officials, including the IPS and IAS officers of Punjab. Where is the accountability of the Chief Secretary of Punjab and that of the Director General of Police of Punjab? Political dispensations may come and go but these officials remain in their chairs and have taken solemn oath of the Constitution. They have often claimed to be the iron grid of India’s administration. Where did all of that go? The manner in which Punjab Police personnel were seen sipping beverage in the company of those very protesters who blocked the PM’s convoy may also raise questions on whether it is with a similar lack of professionalism that Punjab Police deals with cross-border smuggling of drugs.
If the DGP of Punjab says he gave orders but those were not followed, does it not mean that the DGP has no control over his own police force? Similar breach of protocol by Armed Forces would have resulted in Court Martial proceedings. Should something similar not happen with the top civilian officials involved in this case? For how long would they enjoy immunity with impunity?
The moot question therefore is if professionalism of top bureaucrats in Punjab has vanished and if they have been reduced to behave like political appointees. Be it dealing with the drone and drug menace, or the incompetence with which the Ludhiana blast or Kapurthala lynching were dealt with, these raise serious questions over what has India gained by having such top-heavy police administration in the country where even a small state like Punjab has several DG (Director General) rank police officers and innumerable number of ADG (Additional Director General) rank officers. And this is not restricted to Punjab alone.
Now or Never: Centre Must Stem the Rot
It is time for the Centre to read out the riot act and stem the rot. Else what happened in Punjab may become a norm and anarchists would have the last laugh. It is also time for the top brass of the Grand Old Party, namely the Congress, to introspect as to what is going wrong with it and why it has allowed its own degeneration to reach such a nadir where its own members and supporters celebrate what happened with the PM’s convoy.
On reaching Bathinda Airport, Prime Minister Modi’s cryptic and sarcastic message for the Congress government’s chief minister in Punjab is proof enough of what is going wrong with Punjab. Hopefully, a day will not come when one says that the PM of India is more secure when he travels abroad than in Punjab. The state deserves better than that.
The author is a geopolitical analyst. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of the publication.
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