The protest that breached the Prime Minister’s security cordon in Punjab on 5 January made it clear that the 15-month-long farmers’ agitation had a sinister motive from the beginning. The Supreme Court-mandated judicial probe into the breach will reveal whether a section of militant farmers’ unions, infiltrated by the banned Canada-based terrorist Khalistani group Sikhs For Justice (SFJ), had planned the breach as an ambush.
The task before the government is to confront — and defeat — the Khalistani separatists, Islamists and hard Left fascists who endanger national security. They have infiltrated the Opposition, media, NGOs and militant organisations based in the West.
The Narendra Modi government, and specifically the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), must accept part of the blame for allowing the violent, anarchist-fuelled farmers’ agitation to get out of hand. They tried to appease farmers’ unions for nearly a year before capitulating.
Smelling blood, the farmers’ political backers were emboldened. Appeasement always backfires. British prime minister Neville Chamberlain appeased Adolf Hitler in 1938. Sensing British hesitancy over its commitment to defend Poland in case of a German invasion, Hitler sent German troops across the Polish border on 1 September 1939. Two days later on 3 September, Britain was compelled to declare war on Germany. Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler led to the most devastating conflict in history.
When he assumed office in May 2014, Modi pledged a strong government committed to protecting national security. Its record over the past nearly eight years has been mixed. The motto of appease none, empower all, has been honoured more in the breach than the observance.
Modi was right to attempt an entente cordiale with Pakistan by inviting then prime minister Nawaz Sharif to his inauguration in May 2014 and dropping in unannounced in Lahore on Sharif’s birthday on 25 December 2015. He was right, too, to try and build a rapport with Chinese President Xi Jinping during informal summits in Ahmedabad, Wuhan and Mahabalipuram.
None of these attempts at a rapprochement with Islamabad and Beijing worked. The Pakistan Army responded by carrying out terror attacks in Pathankot, Uri and Pulwama. It replaced Sharif as prime minister with a pliant closet jihadist Imran Khan. Xi went rogue with pre-meditated military incursions at Doklam and eastern Ladakh.
India’s response, to the government’s credit, has been robust. It is ramping up infrastructure across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China. Over 50,000 Indian troops, along with heavy artillery and missile systems, have deterred the Chinese from further ingress into Indian territory.
Indian security forces have also done well to eliminate hundreds of Pakistan-sponsored terrorists in Kashmir. Terror attacks have abated in the valley after a surge in targeted murders of civilians and police officers. Pakistan’s proxy terror continues but its intensity has reduced. The country’s paramilitaries have controlled Naxal violence as well, though Maoists remain a threat in several central and eastern states.
Why then has the BJP-led government shown such weakness in dealing with the farmers’ agitation and violent Opposition attacks on its party workers? A low point was reached in the aftermath of the West Bengal assembly poll in May 2021. Dozens of BJP workers were murdered. The reaction from the party’s top leadership was deafening silence. The steady drip-drip procession of BJP leaders to the TMC is a direct outcome of the abdication by the party of its responsibility to stand by its members.
The BJP is obsessed with winning elections. That’s what makes it a formidable electoral machine. But along the way it has abandoned the principles of robust governance. Among the most important is maintain law and order. The excuse that it is a state subject does not wash.
Defiant Opposition-ruled governments have, for example, defied the Centre over the Border Security Force (BSF) increasing its jurisdiction. Under the new BSF law, jurisdiction has been increased from 15 kms to 50 kms in states like West Bengal and Punjab with international borders. Underscoring the Opposition’s unconstitutional defiance, the Central Bureau of Investigation is regularly stopped from carrying out investigations in states like Punjab, West Bengal, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh. The reaction from the MHA has, again, been silence.
It is a silence that emboldens West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to periodically taunt the Centre. The same inexplicable silence emboldened anarchists and Khalistanis to infiltrate the farmers’ protests. They were among the protesters in Punjab last week, armed with tractors and trolleys, who caused the breach in the Prime Minister’s security.
Winning elections is what political parties are focused on. But it cannot be at the expense of governance. In 2018, the BJP was in power in 21 states, either on its own or in alliance with other parties. Today it is in power in just 17 states.
In 2022 and 2023, 16 states will hold assembly elections: seven in 2022 and nine in 2023. The BJP is vulnerable in several, including Himachal Pradesh. There is little doubt that despite the Opposition’s weaponsiation of vested interest groups — Punjab’s farmer unions, Khalistanis, Kashmiri separatists, Pakistan-backed Islamists, Naxals and hard Left fascists — the BJP will likely win the 2024 Lok Sabha election.
But that will be a reflection of the Opposition’s failure to provide a coherent alternative. The Modi government has a good development story to tell. But it has to thank the Opposition’s venality for papering over the cracks in its institutional governance.
The PM’s security breach in Punjab will have consequences on not only the Punjab assembly election but also the Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand polls. In Punjab, the principal beneficiary is the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), though a hung assembly looms.
In Uttar Pradesh, too, there will be repercussions. By mocking the security lapse, Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav has played into the BJP’s — and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s — hands. The consequences will be known on 10 March.
Minhaz Merchant is an author and publisher.
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