Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposed event at Ferozepur in Punjab was cancelled on Wednesday after his convoy was stuck on a flyover for 15-20 minutes as the road was blocked by protesters near the National Martyrs Memorial in Hussainiwala.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) termed it “a major lapse in the security of PM”. It sought a detailed report from the State government and asked it to fix responsibility for the lapse and take strict action.
Home Minister Amit Shah tweeted, “The Ministry of Home Affairs has sought a detailed report on today’s security breach in Punjab. Such dereliction of security procedure in the Prime Minister’s visit is totally unacceptable and accountability will be fixed.”
Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi dismissed that there was any security lapse. He said there was no threat at all to the Prime Minister’s security, even as he expressed ‘regret’ over the episode. “The Prime Minister was to visit Ferozepur today for some inaugurations and was to address a political rally. But on account of disruption on the road by agitators he had to go back, for which I express my regret. After all he is the Prime Minister. Governments [Centre-State] work in tandem... We respect our Prime Minister,” he stated.
The incident took place as there was a sudden change in the Prime Minister’s travel programme. “As per the programme, the Prime Minister was to travel by helicopter and not by road. We were informed by the Prime Minister’s Office that he would be travelling by helicopter. It was at the spot that a decision to travel by road was taken by their [Central] agencies and officers. On the way, there were some agitators, who suddenly blocked the road with tractor-trolleys. There was no plan of Prime Minister to go on this road. The agitators are yet to be identified. Also, Prime Minister’s cavalcade was stopped at a safe distance from the agitators and our officers requested that it would be better to take an alternate route or go through helicopter. There was no attack or any danger to the Prime Minster or any security lapse. However, if there’s any lapse we will probe the matter,” he explained.
“As elections are near, these agitations happen every day. Even I have been facing them. It’s a democratic system people come on roads to air their concerns. The agitators were on the roads last night and our officers persuaded them to leave after talking to them. Farmers were peacefully protesting on Delhi borders for a year. Farmers have their demands and today, if some people were peacefully protesting here, then it should not be seen as a threat to Prime Minister’s security. I am not going use bullet or ‘lathis’ on the people of Punjab. I appeal to all, especially the BJP to not indulge in politics on the issue. We have every respect for our Prime Minister. There was no such thing, which had put him security under threat in Punjab,” he added.
Foundation for projects
The Prime Minister was scheduled to lay the foundation stones for several development projects worth over Rs. 42,750 crore, including the Delhi-Amritsar-Katra expressway and a PGIMER satellite centre.
According to a MHA statement, he landed at Bathinda in the morning from where he was to go to the National Martyrs Memorial by helicopter. “Due to rain and poor visibility, PM waited for about 20 minutes for the weather to clear out. When the weather didn’t improve, it was decided that he would visit the National Marytrs Memorial via road, which would take more than two hours. He then proceeded to travel by road after necessary confirmation of necessary security arrangements by the Director General of Police (DGP) Punjab Police,” it said, adding, “Around 30 km away from the National Martyrs Memorial, when the PM’s convoy reached a flyover, it was found that the road was blocked by some protesters. The PM was stuck on the flyover for 15-20 minutes. This was a major lapse in the security of PM.”
The statement noted that the Prime Minister’s schedule and travel plan were communicated well in advance to the State government. “As per procedure, they have to make necessary arrangements for logistics, security as well as keep a contingency plan ready. Also in view of the contingency plan, Punjab Government has to deploy additional security to secure any movement by road, which were clearly not deployed. After this security lapse, it was decided to head back to Bathinda airport,” it stated.
Call to stage protests
Farmers have been opposing Mr. Modi’s visit to Ferozepur and several farmer outfits had given a call to stage demonstrations against it. Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan), one of the largest farmer outfits in Punjab, was at the forefront of the protests.
Besides, other unions, including the Kisan Mazdoor Sangarsh Committee (KMSC), held protests at some places. Farmer unions, however, denied that there was any call given to block roads as a mark of protest.
“We had given a call for peaceful protest and our members held demonstration as decided. Our members didn’t block road anywhere,” KMSC general secretary Sarvan Singh Pandher said.
BKU(U) general secretary Sukhdev Singh Korikalan told The Hindu that their members burnt effigies of Prime Minister at several places in the State. “Mr. Modi decided to go back because there were ‘empty chairs’ at the venue where he was to address the gathering. It’s a ‘memorable event’ and another victory of the farmers’ struggle,” he remarked.
With Assembly elections inching closer, a political controversy surrounding the issue has erupted. Cornering his own government, former Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar said, “What has happened today is just not acceptable. It’s against Panjabiyat. A secure passage for the Prime Minister of India to address the BJP’s political rally in Ferozpur should have been ensured. That’s how democracy works.”
Former Chief Minister and head of the Punjab Lok Congress Captain Amarinder Singh (retd.) said, “Complete failure of law and order in Punjab, CM and HM Punjab, in particular. When you cannot provide smooth passage to the Prime Minister of the country and that too just 10km from the Pakistan border, you have no right to stay in office and should quit!” He demanded the dismissal of the government and imposition of President’s rule in the State .
Shiromani Akali Dal also took a swipe at the State government. “There is a complete collapse of law and order in Punjab. We have been saying this for a long. The CM is incompetent to run the State,” its president Sukhbir Singh Badal said.
BJP leader Manjinder Singh Sirsa tweeted, “The vehicle of PM @narendramodi Ji was stranded in open. His car was totally visible to all. PM cavalcade is seen returning back - a well-planned conspiracy of Congress Govt exposed!”
‘It's a BKU (Krantikari) protest’
Bharatiya Kisan Union (Krantikari) president Surjit Singh told The Hindu over phone that it was members of their outfit, who staged the protest on the Ferozepur-Moga stretch, through which the Prime Minister’s cavalcade was passing. “We were protesting against the anti-farmer policies and attitude of the BJP,” he said.