India has a history of a not so secure past in terms of security breaches. We lost top national leaders to assassination bids.
On 31st October 1995, the then sitting CM of Punjab, Mr Beant Singh was assassinated at the Secretariat complex along with 17 others at Chandigarh, Punjab. The mastermind was Jagtar Singh alias Tara later caught in Bangkok by Thai Police and the suicide bomber was Dilawar Singh Babbar of Babbar Khalsa International.
On 31st October 1984, the then PM, Indira Gandhi, was assassinated in New Delhi by two of her own bodyguards, Beant Singh and Satwant Singh, as she walked to her office from an adjoining bungalow. The conspiracy was fostered by Kehar Singh, a former government clerk. Reports say that the Damdami Taksal of the Khalistan Commando Force was involved.
On 21 May 1991, former PM Rajib Gandhi was assassinated by a suicide bomber in Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu in a serious breach of security. 14 others were killed in the explosion that followed, along with 43 others who were grievously injured. It was a well-planned and well-executed grotesque killing that snuffed out the life of an Indian leader.
Considering the past deadly incidents, can we take security breaches lightly?
On 5th January 2022, current Prime Minister Narendra Modi was to visit Ferozepur, Punjab to lay the foundation stone of multiple development projects worth more than Rs 42,750 crore. On his way to the National Martyrs Memorial in Hussainiwala, Punjab, a security breach occurred as Prime Minister's cavalcade was blocked by 50+ agitators led by Sikh union leader Surjeet Singh Phool. This led to the PM's convoy being stuck on top of the Moga-Ferozepur highway flyover, just 30 kilometres from the India-Pakistan border, near Piarenana village for nearly 20 minutes. This area has always been on high alert due to the detection of drones and tiffin bombs in the past. After creating the blockade, many protesters came as close to around 150 metres from the Prime Minister's vehicle. However, due to the quick decisions of the SPG, who immediately got their vehicles strategically parked on the road to surround the Prime Minister's car and create a strong layer of protection. Though the threat was large, the risk was sure, that attempt was big.
As the leader of the nation, the Hon'ble Prime Minister's security is a national concern and upholding the sanctity of the post, a security breach is against protocol. So how did this huge security lapse happen and who is accountable? Let's understand the technicalities.
Prior intimation - Media reports have disclosed that three alerts were shared by the Punjab government itself as per official internal memos, wherein the administration staff and top ADGP-rank cops had mentioned to each other on January 1, 2 and 4 for "making necessary arrangements accordingly at a personal level in case of rain on January 5" and "necessary traffic diversion plan in advance as dharnas may result in roadblocks. Besides, Advance Security Liason (ASL) for PM's visit was conducted by SPG along with Punjab administration and the local police on January 1 and 2. During the ASL, a contingency plan for the road journey from Bathinda to Ferozepur was discussed in detail.
So, the narrative of the suddenly changed plan is falsified as clear messages were sent and discussed beforehand.
Administrative protocol – As per protocol, when the PM of the country lands in any state, the Chief Minister of the State or a nominated person, his Chief Secretary, the DGP/SP or the DC needs to receive the PM and travel with him. However, in this case, it was found that the CM of Punjab Charanjit Singh Channi failed to receive the PM at Bathinda airport, he cited two of his aides being COVID positive and hence excused himself maintaining COVID rules. However, he was later seen addressing a press conference with no mask. He was also mingling along with journalists and other commoners without a mask the very next day. Besides, it has been informed that neither the DGP nor any such official accompanied the PM cavalcade.
As performer IPS Kiran Bedi, "The very first security breach was absentee of the DGP. State Home Minister & Home Secretary were also not present. Even the district collector was absent. Was the breach a pre-planned conspiracy? It is a clear case of the ambush of the PM."
Security protocol - The security responsibility of the PM, whenever he visits any state is that of the State government, particularly of DGP. As per the SPG Blue Book Chapter 1, Rule 1 states that the overall responsibility for ensuring the safety of the PM rests with the State Government and responsibility for providing proximate security rests with the SPG as per the SPG Act 1988. Chapter 1 Rule 2 states that State Police shall make all protective arrangements for the security and safety of the Prime Minister. Chapter 1 Rule 5 states that implementation of these rules will be the responsibility of the DGP of the state. Former SPG Additional Director PK Mishra stated that even in impromptu conditions or roadblocks, it is the duty of the state police. When the PM moves, the road has to be sanitized and roadblocks have to be cleared using force by the state police. Because of PM's movement, all SPs and police officials were supposed to remain along the road. They were not there, and the Punjab Police knew this. SPG is the innermost cordon, the close protection team of only 7-8 persons. They take security briefings from the state police and IB.
Leaking of the route – Under the normal protocol, the travel route of VVIP is not disclosed to the public. It is reported that because of bad weather, the chopper program was cancelled and as per the clearance given by the state police and the DG Police of Punjab, SPG decided to take PM on the alternate route earmarked by the state police. The question raises that how protestors were already assembled on PM's route and how was the route of the PM convoy leaked to the general public. Besides, why was false clearance given if protestors were already there from before? It transpires now that Punjab Police who were in the knowhow of the route had leaked it to the protestors' union who gathered on this particular highway to block the PM's cavalcade. The alleged leaking of the PM's route is a matter of serious concern and cannot be washed as a coincidence and the accountability remains with the state government.
Security document - In the ASl handed over to the Punjab government it had been indicated that the PM had grave threats to his life from Pakistan-based militant organizations like Hizbul Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Jaish-e-Mohammed. In Ferozepur's NamakMandi, one IED blast had taken place on September 5 last year. Ten days later, a second blast had taken place in Jalalabad. A tiffin bomb was recovered from Saideke village of Ferozepur on November 3 in which Pakistan's involvement was found. Hence, the statements of the Punjab CM are baseless.
Communication protocol - Question also arises that once PM cavalcade was blocked by agitators, several calls were made to CM Channi, who refused to get on the phone to either address the matter or solve it. He simply was not receiving calls and neither did he bother to call back. His office too did not respond to SOS calls from the PMO.
Communication discrepancies – The first statement CM Channi gave after PM's return back from Punjab, when asked about the security breach, he said that it was 'Kudrati' meaning destiny. He denied that previous information was given on route change, which was refuted.
The doubt that this incidence is not natural but a conspiracy rises from the above facts.
Union minister Smriti Irani in a press conference said that the Congress-led Punjab government asked why the Director-General of Police (DGP) gave the all-clear to the Prime Minister's security detail about the route that he was to take. "Never before in the history of our country were police functionaries in a state-directed and convenience to breach the security of a Prime Minister and bring him harm," she added.
A former Intelligence Bureau Director has raised questions if the Punjab Congress government deliberately ignored the sanctity of such intelligence and sensitive security briefings, leading to a public lapse while endangering the life of PM.
A PIL by senior advocate Maninder Singh was also filed in the Supreme Court. Hearing the case, the SC has asked Punjab and Haryana High Court's Registrar General to "keep all records in his safe custody" and said that the Punjab Police, the Special Protection Group (SPG) and other Centre and state agencies are to "cooperate and provide necessary assistance" to him.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta has described this incident before the court as "rarest of rare" and blamed both the Punjab government and Punjab Police and also called it a "case of potential international embarrassment."
Meanwhile, 27 DGP-rank retired IPS have also written a scathing letter to the President of India, saying that the incident indicates "a bigger conspiracy which requires detailed and fair investigation" and "this is one of the gravest security lapses in history of this country committed through conspiracy and collusion". "We are approaching yourself for the reason that it has never happened that state agencies are making one or other excuse and there are contradictory statements even at the level of a chief minister (Charanjit Channi), regarding the route of the Prime Minister which has been blocked by the so-called protestors. The letter is signed by former Punjab DGP PC Dogra and former Maharashtra DGP Praveen Dixit has also been sent to the Chief justice of India.