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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Blow to VIP culture, or political vendetta? Punjab govt orders stir up row

Even before the Punjabi singer’s death, critics had been asking the AAP government why the details of its directives downgrading the cover of some VIPs and VVIPs were becoming public.

Written by Kamaldeep Singh Brar | Amritsar |
Updated: May 30, 2022 10:58:02 pm
Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann. (PTI/File)

The death of Punjabi singer and Congress leader Sidhu Moosewala in a shooting near Mansa on Sunday is likely to shift public focus on the Punjab government’s decision to withdraw or downgrade the security cover of several VIPs and VVIPs since coming to power in March.

The number of personnel in Moosewala’s security detail was halved from four to two on May 26 (Thursday). Two days later, the government either downgraded or removed the security cover of 424 people and the list went viral on social media. Among those whose security was partially removed was Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh who had advised Sikhs a few weeks ago to keep licensed weapons as “circumstances were such”. His remarks had drawn the criticism of Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann.

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Facing criticism, the Aam Aadmi Party-led (AAP) government tried to restore the Akal Takht leader’s security hours later. But he refused, saying Sikh youth and the Khalsa Panth were enough for his security. This led to the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) labelling the government “anti-Panth” and “anti-Punjab”.

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The AAP-led government first issued an order removing security personnel from VIP duty on March 12, even before it had taken its oath. Since then, the administration has issued at least four more directives. This caused controversy, with some applauding the government for acting against “VIP culture” and others accusing it of using the optics for propaganda. The government’s critics accused it of endangering the lives of the public figures whose security had been withdrawn as their names had appeared in the media. The details of such orders are supposed to be confidential and not shared in the public domain.

“The police stations are lying vacant and the police are guarding the houses of leaders,” Mann said earlier this month in defence. “We will make the police do policing. The security of 2.75 crore people is more important than a few.”

But former AAP MLA Kanwar Sandhu recently took to Twitter to ask why the names on these lists had appeared in the media. “If any of them is attacked, will these media houses be co-accused?” he asked.

“It is political vendetta by the government,” alleged former Congress MLA and current BJP leader Fateh Jang Singh Bajwa, whose name was on the Saturday list. “I will file a contempt of court case if my security is not restored. I had been given Y-plus security. My brother had Z-plus security. What is threat perception for (AAP leader) Raghav Chadha?”

The BJP leader’s brother Partap Singh Bajwa is the Congress Legislative Party leader in the state. Following his remarks, the government restored Fateh Singh Bajwa’s security cover.

On May 11, after the security cover of SAD leader and former Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal was reduced, the party’s spokesperson Daljit Singh Cheema tweeted, “In Punjab, first security of political leaders, former police officers, their families etc is withdrawn. Then, to claim credit, this information is flashed on TVs, newspapers, and social media without realising that it may reach their worst enemies and endanger their lives. Punjab chief minister, stop it please.”

Former Congress MLA Parminder Singh Pinki last week moved the High Court to restore his security cover after 28 of 30 personnel in his protection unit were removed. The former legislator, through his counsel, argued that the security provided to him was illegally withdrawn at the behest of politically vested interests, without providing him any notice, and without assessing the threat perception.

Among the others whose security has been reduced are former Chief Minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, former minister Vijay Singla, BJP leader and former state Congress president Sunil Jakhar, and former Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal.

The AAP-led government is not the first to withdraw or reduce the security of the members of the outgoing administration. Former CM Captain Amarinder Singh had claimed to have removed 2,000 personnel deployed for VIP security in 2017 within one-and-a-half months of assuming charge. At the time, the members of the SAD had been at the receiving end of the government’s directives.

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