An impartial inquiry into a politically contested incident is always welcome. Earlier this month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s convoy was stranded on a flyover near Ferozepur in Punjab for about 20 minutes. Treating this as a serious security lapse, and taking note of the potential for partisan inquiries, the Supreme Court has appointed its former judge, Justice Indu Malhotra, to lead an inquiry . Other members of the probe committee comprise the DGP of Chandigarh, a senior officer of the National Investigation Agency, the additional DGP (security) of Punjab, and the Registrar-General of the Punjab and Haryana High Court. The court official has already secured the records related to the Prime Minister’s tour programme on that day. One hopes the probe, which has been constituted only to avoid one-sided inquiries at the instance of either the Union government or the State government, will give a quietus to the raging political controversy. None will disagree that once the matter was taken to the apex court, only an inquiry of this nature will steer clear of partisan politics, especially in the backdrop of the incident emerging as an exploitable issue in the elections to five State Assemblies. The Union government’s show-cause notice to the Chief Secretary and DGP of Punjab, demanding a response within 24 hours, evoked some resentment from the Bench.
Initial inquiries ordered by both governments have been put on hold. However, there is something disquieting about the way an isolated lapse in the Prime Minister’s security is being used to raise the political temperature and garner electoral dividends. It is unfortunate that the attempt on the part of the ruling BJP to fix the blame on the Punjab government, and the Congress which helms it, is continuing even after the Supreme Court appointed an independent committee to probe the incident. Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has made some crude and unwarranted remarks on his Punjab counterpart, Charanjit Singh Channi, demanding Mr. Channi’s arrest and alleging a conspiracy to kill the Prime Minister. It is clear that a divisive narrative is sought to be built by key functionaries of the BJP, as though they have been asked to milk the issue as much as possible in the run-up to the Assembly elections. The petition, which the Bench headed by the Chief Justice of India, N.V. Ramana, agreed to hear early, seemed to be an exercise to put the Punjab government in the dock. However, the Supreme Court has managed to emancipate the litigation from its political overtones and preserve the scope for a dispassionate inquiry. It would be in the fitness of things if the Court took note of the attempts to use the incident for electoral propaganda and restrained political parties from the resort to needless rhetoric.