The politics over the alleged security breach during the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Punjab refuses to die down. There are allegations and counter-allegations galore. However, only a few commentators have cared to go beyond their political bias and comment on the aspect of professional deficiencies in the entire episode.
There are a few critical questions that the enquiry committee set up by appropriate authorities should go into. The Special Protection Group (SPG) and the Punjab Police (PP), the two main agencies responsible for ensuring the security of the Prime Minister during his visit to Punjab, must analyse the deficiencies and take corrective measures.
The Task of Sanitising the Road
The first question to be addressed is, when was the police finally informed about the plan of the Prime Minister to travel by road? Because this will dictate how much time was available to the state police to sanitise the road, stretching to almost 150 Km. If the police were informed about the plan to travel by road before the departure of the Prime Minister from Delhi, they had enough time to sanitise the road. However, if the decision was taken after his arrival at Bathinda, the competent officer of the SPG should have advised the Prime Minister to stay at the Bathinda Airport for some time in order to facilitate the sanitisation of the entire stretch of the road, which, it must be appreciated, was a task of gigantic proportions in the given time frame.
Did the SPG advise the PM accordingly? And if not, why? If the advice was given, did the Prime Minister overrule the advice? No one perhaps realised the risks involved in travel by road, which points towards an absence of professionalism.
The information about bad weather must have been available in advance to the SPG and other agencies. So, why could a decision to use the road route not be conveyed to the police in advance to facilitate their task? If that was done, the failure of the police to sanitise the road is sheer negligence. Even otherwise, the multiple helicopters available are all-weather machines, and there being no obstacle en route, these helicopters were safe to use, notwithstanding the scare created by the unfortunate accident at Wellington last month.
Was the Police Under Pressure?
The alternative route being decided and reconnoitred during the advance security liaison (ASL) comes into consideration only after final orders are received.
A small state like Punjab does not have adequate security forces available for simultaneous deployment at all places, including the rally site, the route, and the place of arrival, as well as the Husainiwala Samadhi site. Reports suggest that the police, within the limited time available, did manage to clear the route at a few places for the convoy to pass and reach, where it finally got stuck.
The police, under pressure, probably gave clearance for the move of the convoy after only a partial sanitisation of the route, when they should have given the clearance only after complete sanitisation.
Notwithstanding the above, the Google Maps navigation app is available on every mobile phone, and the places where traffic congestion existed could have been easily identified and the speed of convoy controlled accordingly, thus giving more time to the police to clear such blockages.
Undeniably, the lack of coordination and communication gap between different security agencies involved is the reason for the faux pas, especially so between the SPG and the Punjab Police.
The second question that needs consideration is that why did the SPG decide to stay on the flyover for over 20 minutes and not turn back immediately? The delayed decision in this regard caused the static convoy of the Prime Minister to be exposed to threats, if any, and it is tantamount to negligence on part of the SPG.
The third question is, how did the people waving Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) flags manage to reach close to the vehicle of the Prime Minister? This certainly is a security lapse – even though these people were in support of the Prime Minister – on part of the Punjab Police. Apparently, there was no threat from the farmers as viral videos and photos indicate that the protesting farmers were far away – some say about a kilometre away – from the convoy.
Why SPG Officers Should Be More Bold
The SPG was raised exclusively for the protection of the Prime Minister and his/her immediate family members in 1985 after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. The scope was further enhanced to include former Prime Ministers and their families after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. The force is supposed to be an elite organisation, for which selection is done after an exhaustive psychological assessment. Those inducted have to undergo gruelling training before being assigned duties.
The organisation, consisting of career police and Central Armed Forces (CAF) personnel, suffers from the same deficiencies as the hierarchal organisations from where they are loaned. The training that they undergo equips them to deal with routine and standard situations. However, the ingrained deference to hierarchy prevents them from exercising initiative.
People with the ability to think on their feet thus play safe lest they be at the receiving end of the wrath of powers that be in case of any mishap. Thus, we find more errors of omission happening rather than that of commission. This syndrome is visible in the latest incident as well as many times in the past.
In this incident, the SPG officers should have stuck – so to say – to their guns and ensured that the Punjab Police got adequate time to sanitise the route. The Prime Minister should have been advised accordingly. Also, the Prime Minister should have adhered to the advice of the SPG and waited at the Airport till all-clear was communicated by the police. The SPG protected should adhere to the advice because the SPG, being in regular contact with other agencies, are in the know of the entire picture.
Lessons From Rajiv Gandhi & Indira Gandhi
A similar lack of professionalism was on display in the assassination attempt on Rajiv Gandhi at Rajghat on 2 October 1986. As per an India Today report, the attacker was hiding at the location for over a week before 2 October, ie, since before the ASL and the subsequent search of the area, both of which must have been done jointly by the representatives of the SPG, the Intelligence Bureau and the Delhi Police, among others. The SPG and other security forces deployed there could not even identify the sound of gunfire and mistook it for the sound of a tyre burst.
The action of the SPG even after the confirmation of the firing left much to be desired. The Prime Minister should have been immediately whisked away to a safe house as per the instructions in the “Blue Book”. However, he is seen calmly answering the questions of a TV journalist even after the incident.
The assailant had fired thrice, and it is only providence that saved Rajiv Gandhi that day as he had neither a sophisticated weapon nor an accomplice. The incident had occurred in spite of the specific advance intelligence being available.
Then, there was another attempt on Rajiv Gandhi in Colombo on 29 July 1987 by a Sri Lankan naval rating. Video footage of the incident indicates that it was the Sri Lankan naval officer conducting Mr Gandhi who managed to intercept the gun and thus soften the blow on his head. The rating was physically overpowered by the Sri Lankan naval personnel.
The SPG personnel can be seen dithering for a good five seconds before they acted to physically surround Gandhi. Those five seconds could have been fatal had the assailant had an accomplice.
The Need to Overhaul Things
There are a plethora of security organisations, each prophesying to be elite through the trappings and frills of fancy uniforms and other accoutrements.
These may look impressive to laymen, but they do not make any value addition to the professionalism of these forces. It requires courage to overhaul things to disturb the status quo and bring transformation.
The SPG needs to have a close look at its training policies to ensure that its personnel exercise initiative to deal boldly with the dynamic situations that they are likely to encounter. At the same time, the SPG-protected also has to understand that following the advice of people tasked with protection is essential not only for their personal security but also for the national interest.
(Sanjiv Krishan Sood (Retd) has served as the Additional Director General of the BSF and was also with the SPG. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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