Rajat Sharma

How Punjab Police colluded with protesters to block Prime Minister’s convoy

AKb (1)On Thursday, the President of India Ramnath Kovind met PM Narendra Modi and expressed concern over serious breach of Prime Minister’s security, while Vice-President of India M. Venkaiah Naidu expressed his displeasure over the Punjab flyover incident. Union Ministers expressed concern over the issue at the Cabinet meeting, but Congress leaders continued to remain nonchalant. They claimed that there was no serious breach of security and alleged that BJP was indulging in drama over a small incident. In contrast, by the evening, Congress President Sonia Gandhi telephoned Punjab chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi and instructed him to identify officials accountable for gross irresponsibility.

Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjuna Kharge took a different line. He alleged that BJP was losing popularity in Punjab and was indulging in drama. Kharge said, SPG, Intelligence Bureau and other central agencies are in charge of PM’s security. He asked why the working of these agencies is not being questioned. “Nobody from the state police advised the PM to go by road”, Kharge added.

An experienced politician like Kharge should know that the SPG is responsible only for proximate security of the PM, and close coordination is needed with the state police. Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel went to the extent of saying “it was all scripted and breach of security is being shown as an excuse”. The PM, he alleged, had gone to Punjab in order to score political points. “If there was threat to the PM’s life, what were the central agencies doing?”, Baghel asked.

Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot said the Congress, in the past, had lost the lives of two if its prime ministers to assassins, and Congress can never commit such mistakes. It is a fact that Indira Gandhi, shot by her bodyguards, died in the lap of her daughter-in-law Sonia Gandhi, while Rajiv Gandhi was blown up by an assassin. Both were serious security breaches. Congress paid a huge price for these breaches of security. That is why I was surprised when senior Congress leaders, including two of their chief ministers, tried to make fun of what occurred in Punjab. Gehlot said, the assassinations of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi were dark blots.

Does he mean to say that the lives of Congress leaders are precious and those of other parties are not so? Was the breach of Prime Minister Modi’s security not a dark blot? Is this serious lapse not a shameful matter for the Congress government in Punjab? How can Congress leaders forget that it was after Indira’s assassination that the Special Protection Group was set up, Parliament had to pass the SPG Act, a Blue Book was prepared outlining details of security provided to the PM? Is it not a paradox that on one hand Sonia Gandhi acknowledges this as an irresponsible act, while other leaders from her party are claiming there was no security breach?

In my prime time show Aaj Ki Baat on Thursday night, we showed how gross negligence was deliberately committed by local police when the PM’s convoy reached the flyover. Tractors and trolleys did not appear all of a sudden in the PM’s route. These were brought there deliberately. Extensive arrangements were made to block the PM’s convoy. When the convoy took a U-turn and returned after waiting for 20 minutes, local leaders were patting the backs of protesters.

I have with me two confidential communications from the Additional DGP of Punjab Police, and five videos which clearly establish collusion between local police and protesters. When the PM’s convoy reached the flyover, the protesters standing on tractors and trolleys were shouting on mikes that they would not leave, even if police resorts to firing or lathi charge. Clearly, this security breach appears to be part of a bigger conspiracy to foil the PM’s Ferozepur rally.

The top level communications from ADGP clearly establish that Punjab Police knew about the possibility of PM going by road to Ferozepur from Bathinda. Despite having information in advance, Punjab Police did not take a single step to remove the protesters from the PM’s route. Videos clearly show the PM’s convoy blocked on the flyover, and several hundred buses and tractors with protesters standing on them, below the flyover. Some of the protesters were instigating others on mikes, while there were others armed with lathis and sticks. Videos clearly show the local police standing nearby watching the protesters silently. The protesters were publicly declaring their intention not to allow the BJP to hold its rally in Ferozepur.

Another video clearly shows a huge crowd of protesters, many of them standing on top of buses and tractors, gesticulating, while the local police was feebly trying to remove them. The crowd was clearly not under control. This was a dangerous situation from the point of view of PM’s security. When the PM’s convoy took a U-turn after waiting for 15 to 20 minutes, the protesters erupted in joy. They celebrated their “victory”. All the false claims of Punjab chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi were debunked by Surjit Singh Phull, chief of BKU(Krantikari). The cat was out of the bag when Phull said, the protesters had no prior knowledge that the PM’s convoy would reach there. “We were told about the PM’s arrival by the local police”, Phull said. He said, the protesters initially did not believe in what the SSP said, because normal traffic was plying on the other side of the road.

It is now clear that the SSP of Ferozepur had told the protesters about the arrival of PM’s convoy. The question now is: if any rehearsal on this route was done a day in advance, why was not the route sanitized and cleared of protesters? Who permitted the protesters to come to the flyover and block traffic? There were several hundred protesters near the flyover, a full-fledged ‘langar’ was going on and protesters and policemen were sipping tea, waiting for the PM’s convoy to come. All these cannot take place within a matter of an hour or two. You will be surprised to know that it was the local police which allowed the protesters to sit on the road, if we go by what Surjit Singh Phull is saying. Phull revealed that the protesters were going to the Deputy Commissioner’s office to stage protest, but were asked by police to sit near the flyover. Ten to 12 farmer organisations in Punjab had planned to stage protests at district and tehsil headquarters on that day. It was the local police which prevented the protesters from going to the DC’s office.

I have with me a letter from Punjab Police ADGP (Law and Order) written to all IGs, DIGs and SSPs cautioning that protesters might try to disrupt the PM’s rally in Ferozepur. All SSPs were instructed to keep personal watch over the movement of protesters, and prevent them from going to Ferozepur. The letter says that since a large crowd is expected at the PM’s rally, SSPs should make adequate arrangements for smooth flow of VVIP movement and keep close watch on movement of protesters.

Two or three points are clear. The Prime Minister’s convoy was going on a changed route, known to very few persons in security, but this information was leaked to the protesters. The protesters and their leaders had ample time in hand to reach the spot with buses, tractors and trolleys to block the PM’s convoy. Police did not try to remove them. The Punjab DGP had himself assured the SPG that the road route from Bathinda to Hussainiwala was clear and sanitized. There are videos to establish that the protesters had come to the spot, determined not to allow the convoy to move ahead. There are videos of policemen sipping tea being served by protesters. The Punjab Police ADG had cautioned in advance about protesters trying to block traffic, but no action was taken.

These were the causes that led to the PM’s convoy remaining stalled on the flyover for nearly 20 minutes. It was a dangerous move. A major breach of security. Punjab is a sensitive state, located close to the India-Pakistan border. The breach of security is therefore bigger. There must be no politics over the issue and those accountable must be punished.

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