The row over the ‘security lapses’ that led to Prime Minister Narendra Modi cancelling his visit to Punjab on Wednesday is both unnecessary and unwarranted. Neither the Centre nor the state has crowned itself with glory by allowing the incident to reach a flashpoint. Nature had much to do with the events that led to the Prime Minister’s convoy getting stranded 10 kilometres from his destination at Ferozepur. Had the Special Protection Group, which controls his security, taken note of the weather forecast, it would not have made his oneday visit to the state so crowded. If Modi could not take off for Ferozepur in a helicopter from Bathinda, it was the inclement, foggy weather that was to blame. The pilot would not have taken a risk in view of what had happened to the Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat in Tamil Nadu recently.
While choosing the alternative road route that stretched over 100 kilometres, those in charge of security had not taken seriously the farmers’ call to boycott his public rally. Given the political drama that leaders in India are prone to enact, there is some substance in the theory that Modi used the incident of stranding to call off his programme. If, as alleged, there were only a few people to listen to him at Ferozepur, it would have been politically suicidal for him and his party as the state is all set to go to polls. The question is, who exactly is to blame: the SPG whose only job is to protect the Prime Minister, the officers who decided to abandon the original helicopter plan and take him by road or the state police who could not remove those who blocked the road? The inquiry committee headed by a retired high court judge is expected to give its report in three days. Much will also depend on what direction the case the Supreme Court has taken cognisance of will take once it starts hearing on Friday. Needless to say, removing the road blockade was not that easy. The Central government had realised this when farmers, mostly from Punjab, were stopped at the gates of Delhi and they sat on the roads for more than a year. Surely, the state government could not have been expected to use force against them.
Election has not yet been formally announced in Punjab or any other state. As such, it can be claimed that Modi’s was an official visit. Everybody knows that his visits to Uttar Pradesh or Uttarakhand and, now, Punjab are more in the nature of election campaigns. True, protocols for campaign visits are different from those for official visits. In fact, questions can indeed be asked whether the Prime Minister was doing the right thing organising large rallies in wanton disregard of the Covid protocols, particularly when cases of Covid-19 and its new variant Omicron have been spreading fast in state after state. Nobody disputes the fact that the campaign for the West Bengal assembly election last year played a significant role during the second wave of Covid-19. Political parties should have by now evolved a policy that relies on modern technology to reach out to the voters, instead of having to herd them together at public fields and stadia, as has been the case so far.
Incidentally, the insinuation that there was an attempt on Modi’s life as could be inferred from his statement that he was grateful to the Punjab chief minister for sparing his life was nothing but melodrama. What has happened in Punjab is clear proof that there was little coordination between the Central and state security agencies. They should have worked out several contingency
plans, especially in view of the farmers’ call for boycott. In future too, the Prime Minister will have to visit the state and there cannot be any failures on the security front. It does not and should not matter that the parties ruling at the Centre and the state are different. It is the state’s duty to ensure that the Prime Minister is able to travel freely and safely in its territory. There are clearly laid down protocols to govern such visits. Mistakes and unforeseen situations can at times throw up challenges as at Ferozepur. The Prime Minister did the right thing to cancel the programme and return to the capital. It is in the nation’s interest that nobody makes a mountain out of a molehill of what could be called a washout of a visit.
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