Updated: January 6, 2022 9:46:49 pm
Key to the unprecedented security breach involving the Prime Minister in Punjab Wednesday is how his cavalcade was, effectively, grounded for 15 minutes on a flyover en route to his destination, the Hussainiwala National Martyrs Memorial, 30 km away, and a subsequent rally.
The Indian Express spoke to several police, local officials and protesting farmers who blocked the road, to find that behind the breach was a series of lapses marked by crossed wires, the exigencies of politics and a failure by the state police and administration to respond as per protocol.
It was raining in Bathinda when the PM landed at Bhisiana airport at 10.20 am. For over 30 minutes, he waited for the weather to clear before deciding to go to Hussainiwala memorial at Ferozepur, 122 km away, by road around 11.15 pm.
This change of plan was promptly conveyed to the Punjab government and the police.
Around 1.05 pm, the PM’s cavalcade reached the flyover near Piareana village only to find a traffic jam with buses coming from the opposite side and protesters on the road ahead. They were members of the Bhartiya Kisan Union Krantikari (Phul) and were protesting against BJP workers headed for the PM’s rally.
Sources said that the officiating Punjab Director General of Police, Siddharth Chattopadhyaya, did get in touch with senior members in the Government as the PM’s convoy came to a halt on the flyover.
Sources said that the DGP was in favour of “using force” to disperse the protesters so that the cavalcade could move but was told to exercise restraint.
Sources said the DGP was told the police should not do anything 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”.
In that incident, two protesters, part of a group blockading a road, were killed in police firing.
Result: the PM’s cavalcade remained stranded on the bridge for over 15 minutes before deciding to turn back around 1.20 pm.
Significantly, as many as 10 Senior Superintendents of Police (SSPs) were on duty for the PM’s visit along with 10 officers of similar seniority.
When contacted by The Indian Express, Ferozepur Range DIG Inderbir Singh said the stretch where the PM’s convoy got stuck was under Moga SSP “as per security arrangements made by Additional Director General of Police G Nageswara Rao who was overall in-charge for PM’s security plan.”
Inderbir Singh said he went to the spot after being informed about the protests. But he reached too late – barely 15 minutes before the PM’s convoy.
Rao did not respond to calls or a text message.
When contacted, Moga SSP Charanjit Singh Sohal said: “We are looking into it. We had covered 35-40 km. We are looking into what happened on these 5 km.”
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.
“We were there to stop the BJP vehicles. Had we known that the PM was actually travelling on this route, our reaction would have been different. After all, he is our PM too,” said Zira who was present at the spot when the incident took place.
This is confirmed in a video shot by some bystanders that shows a big posse of policemen asking the protesters to clear the way for the PM’s convoy.
But Zira is heard saying that as per their information — wrongly — that the PM has already reached the venue.
A senior Punjab police officer said the DIG needs to answer how the protestors landed there when PM was to travel on that road and why did the intervention by police happen so late.
A retired Punjab police DGP said it was the responsibility of the state government to ensure security for the PM’s visit as per norms.
“You have to deploy additional security when you know protesters are there,” he added. “Just telling the farmers to move away since the PM is on his way is a serious lapse. You can’t clear things at such a short notice.”
That the weather at Bathinda wasn’t conducive to flying is no justification, said a retired police official. “It shouldn’t have come as any surprise that the PM was, in all probability, going to take the road,” he said. “Given the long distance he had to travel, the entire route should have been cleared and sanitised well in advance. This has unprofessionalism written all over it.” (With inputs by Kamaldeep Singh Brar)
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