PM Modi's Punjab Visit Cancelled: 2 Angles to the Fiasco – Security & Politics
Who is to blame for PM Modi's convoy getting stuck on the highway near Ferozepur in Punjab?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Punjab ended in a fiasco on Wednesday, 5 January, and this has escalated into a war of words between the BJP-led Union government and the Congress-led Punjab government.
Here's a brief rundown of what happened:
PM landed at Bathinda airport, and from there, he was supposed to go to the national martyrs memorial at Hussainiwala by helicopter. This is the plan that had been decided upon by the Centre and the Punjab government in advance.
However, it became clear after landing that going by chopper would not be possible due to bad weather. Therefore, it was decided to take the PM by road to Hussainiwala.
About 25 km before Hussainiwala, and just before Firozpur city, the PM's cavalcade was stranded allegedly due to protesting farmers blocking the road.
The PM's convoy turned back and went to Bathinda, and all his events were cancelled.
At the airport, ANI quoted the PM as having told the Punjab government officials to "thank your CM that I reached Bathinda airport alive" – in what is being seen as a sarcastic dig at the state government.
The Ministry of Home Affairs issued a statement accusing the Punjab government of a lapse in the PM's security.
CM Channi held a press conference in the evening and expressed regret for what happened. But he also claimed that there was no threat to the PM's life and that the protesters shouldn't be seen from a security point of view.
This is a rough summary of what has happened. Now, there are two aspects to the entire row – the security aspect and the political aspect.
THE SECURITY QUESTION: WHOSE FAULT WAS IT?
The blame actually lies with a number of agencies. Neither the Punjab Police nor the Special Protection Group responsible for PM's security can escape blame on this.
The shortest route from Bathinda airport to Hussainiwala is 106 km, passing through Kotkapura, Faridkot, and Ferozepur. On a normal day, this would take two to two and a half hours.
Why did the Punjab Police give clearance for the PM's convoy to take this route at such short notice? Why didn't the SPG red-flag it?
The entire route passes through districts like Bathinda, Faridkot, and Ferozepur, which are in rural Malwa – the epicentre of the farmers' protest. So surely, central agencies, like the Intelligence Bureau, should have anticipated protests?
Ideally, when it was known that it wouldn't be possible for the PM to travel by chopper from Bathinda to Hussainiwala, his visit should have been cancelled, instead of trying to take him there by road.
It isn't clear whose call it was. The MHA claimed that the Punjab Police gave the clearance. Channi claimed that the Punjab Police had limited say in the matter, and that they had cleared the roads by convincing the protesters. But he also said that the problem occurred due to last-minute change of plans.
THE POLITICS AFTER THE FIASCO
The politics following the fiasco is now starting to unfold.
BJP president JP Nadda and several others BJP leaders also attacked the Punjab government for the alleged "security lapse."
BJP general secretary CT Ravi even went to the extent of tweeting "Desh ke gaddaro ko goli maaro (shoot the traitors)".
Pro-BJP channels are running, "Modi managed to escape danger."
Later on Wednesday night, the BJP released a video alleging that there was a conspiracy to unleash violence by "Pakistanis, Khalistanis and the Congress" and claimed that it was foiled by PM Modi.
The narrative is basically to highlight the alleged "security threat in Punjab" from "anti-nationals" and how the PM is the "only one fighting it".
The political spin is also evident from the fact that this is not the first time that the PM's convoy got stranded. But the allegation that his "life was under threat" is being made for the first time in such a situation.
For instance, in 2017 December, the PM's convoy was stuck in traffic in Uttar Pradesh's Gautam Buddh Nagar when he was on his way to inaugurate a metro line. Two policemen were suspended after this. But it was not said that the PM's life was in danger.
In 2018, the PM got stuck in traffic in Delhi on two occasions. And both times, the spin by pro-BJP media channels was that "it's the end of VVIP culture" rather than a security breach.
So it is curious why the allegation that the "PM's life is in danger" is being made in the context of poll-bound Punjab.
While such a tactic may not work in Punjab, it could have an impact in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
The Congress is also using the response to score political points.
On one hand, Congress communications in-charge Randeep Surjewala and Punjab Education Minister Pargat Singh alleged in their tweets that the PM cancelled his programme due to poor turnout at his rally.
Then another narrative that became clear during CM Channi's presser is that some sections are seeing the PM's 'statement' that is life is in danger as an insult to Punjab.
"Isn't this an insult of 3 crore Punjabis?" a Punjabi journalist asked CM Channi.
The CM, however, said that he wants to keep politics away from it.
"If PM has said something out of anger or due to politics, I won't comment on it. But I will say one thing, you're our PM. As a Punjabi, I would lay down my life to protect you. But there was no danger to his life," he said during the presser.
However, Channi too took a dig at the reportedly low turnout at the PM's rally, saying, "70,000 kursi lagi, 700 bande pohche. Mai kya karun yaar?" (70,000 chairs were put, but only 700 people turned up. So what can I do?"
It's not clear when the PM will come to Punjab next but we can safely say that a fresh tussle between the Centre and Punjab has already begun.
(An earlier version of this story mistakenly mentioned that the PM's convoy was stuck in traffic for 2 hours in UP's Gautam Buddh Nagar in 2017. It was later corrected. The error is regretted.)
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