It was Wednesday (5 January) that in a major security lapse, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s convoy was stranded on a flyover for over 15 minutes due to a blockade by protesters in Ferozepur, after which he returned from poll-bound Punjab without attending any event.
While the Punjab government, on Thursday (6 January), has set up a high-level committee to probe lapses that compromised PM Modi’s security, numerous news reports have brought forth revelations regarding the security breach which have called in question the preparedness of the Punjab Police and have also raised many doubts on the clarification given by Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi.
Wasn’t the Punjab Police informed in advance?
As per this report by The New Indian, three internal missives by the Punjab Police on 1, 2 and 4 January regarding PM’s visit had clearly directed the state cops to “make necessary diversions plans in advance.”
“Any dharna may result in road blocks, therefore please make necessary traffic diversion plans in advance. Please brief your SSPs personally to assess the plan of farmers and make necessary arrangements accordingly at personal level,” stated the memo, dated 1 January, which was sent to 11 DGP-rank officers apart from supervisory officers on PM duty.
Another detailed internal missive, dated 2 January, on the subject ‘Traffic and Route Arrangements in districts on 5th Jan-PMs rally day’, mentions that around 1 lakh people will be attending the event, thereby directing the state cops to make the necessary traffic and route arrangements. It has also mentioned about the possibility of rains and farmers holding dharnas, hence seeking a road evacuation plan for PM Modi’s cavalcade.
”You are further directed to keep a watch on the movement of farmers and they should not be allowed to move to district Ferozepur to disrupt the rally,” reads the 4 January note.
Given that CM Channi has told the media that PM Modi’s programme to travel by road was a last-minute change, the internal missives by the Punjab Police ADGP signal the exact opposite.
A series of lapses
The breach in PM Modi’s security was a series of lapses on various levels- lack of coordination, avoidable political exigencies and a major failure on the part of the state police and administration.
According to this report, the officiation Punjab Director General of Police (DGP), Siddharth Chattopadhyaya, did contact the senior members of the state government as the PM’s convoy was stranded on the flyover. The DGP, who was in favour of “using force” to disperse the protestors, was disallowed, on CM Channi’s orders, to take any measures which could put the state government in a fix as had “happened during police action against anti-sacrilege protesters at Behbal Kalan after the incident of sacrilege at Bargari in 2015”.
The reports also mentions that Ferozepur Range DIG Inderbir Singh, when asked about the incident, informed that the stretch where the PM’s convoy was stuck was under Moga SSP Charanjit Singh Sohal. The Moga SSP has no clear answers as he said, “We are looking into it. We had covered 35-40 km. We are looking into what happened on these 5 km.”
G Nageswara Rao, Additional Director General of Police, who was overall in-charge for the PM's security plan, was reportedly unavailable to answer the media.
Baldev Singh Zira, State General Secretary, Bhartiya Kisan Union Krantikari (Phul), the group that was staging a dharna on the flyover, admitted that the Ferozepur SSP had informed them that the PM and his convoy would take that road. However, he said the farmers thought this was a mere ruse to get them to stop the protests and disperse, reports The Indian Express.
What actually happened on the scene?
The Prime Minister landed at the Bhisiana Airport in Bhatinda at 10.20am. Due to continuous rain, PM decided to go to the Hussainiwala memorial at Ferozpur, by road around 11.15am. The PM’s change of plan was immediately conveyed to the Punjab government and the state police.
Around 1.05pm, the PM’s convoy reached the Ferozepur flyover near Piareana village where he remained stranded for 15-20 minutes in a traffic jam with buses from the opposite side and protestors, with some of them coming close to about 150 m from the PM’s vehicle, on the road ahead.
As per this , the Moga-Ferozepur highway near Piarenana village was clear till around 11am on Wednesday, before 50 farmers led by union leader Surjeet Singh Phool reached there and blocked the road with the help of local villagers.
As per a senior official of the central government, the said highway was the approved “contingency route” in case the PM was not able to fly from the airport to his destination.
Punjab Police had assured the SPG when the PM started from Bathinda by road that the route was clear and security was assured. On Tuesday (4 January) evening, this route was blocked by the Bhartiya Kisan Sangharsh Samiti but was cleared by early morning after talks.
A written assurance was given by the Punjab government too. But at 11am on Wednesday, 50 men of Bhartiya Kisan Union (Krantikari) led by Surjeet Singh Phool arrived at the highway near Piarenana village and blocked the road with a trolley, about 8 km before the rally venue of the PM.
Announcements were made from a speaker to collect local villagers from Piarenana and soon a crowd of about 150 protestors were on the highway. The PM by then had embarked from Bathinda to take the Bajakhana-Kotkapura-Faridkot route to Ferozepur, News18.
While Phool has claimed that there was no intention to stop the PM’s convoy and they did not even know that the prime minister would pass through the road until the Punjab Police told them so around 12.30pm, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has alleged that the response of the Punjab government and the state police signals that they had some sort of secret understanding with protestors who came out of nowhere posing an unprecedented and serious threat to PM Modi’s security.
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