PM’s security breach issue may become BJP’s poll plank

The PM’s security breach in Punjab on January 5 has come in the backdrop of reports that the BJP was facing an uphill task in retaining power in four of the five states going to the polls. The Congress has accused the BJP of politicizing the issue. A report by Amit Agnihotri

The political blame game over PM Modi’s security breach has indicated the issue might become a major theme of the BJP’s narrative in the coming five state elections.

Out of the five states that will have assembly polls in February and March, the BJP rules in four, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa, and Manipur, while Punjab is with the Congress.

The PM’s security breach in Punjab on January 5 has come in the backdrop of reports that the BJP was facing an uphill task in retaining power in the states under its rule.

The reasons were the year-long farmers agitation over three controversial laws, handling of the devastating second wave of Covid-19 last year, widespread unemployment, price rise and a sliding economy.

PM Modi announcing the withdrawal of the three controversial farm laws on November 19, 2021, coinciding with the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak after a year of protests across the country, was linked to the concern within the BJP that the issue could cost it votes in the villages of the five poll-bound states.

Though the BJP governments in the four states have been claiming development, the party’s renewed focus on temples in Ayodhya, Mathura and Kashi was seen as a ploy to counter anti-incumbency.

Within hours of the PM’s security breach, both the BJP and the Congress started levelling charges at each other.

The Congress accused the BJP of politicizing the issue with an eye on the coming elections in five states while the BJP alleged the incident was a deliberate act of the Punjab government and was part of a conspiracy to harm the PM.

The BJP has claimed the PM’s security was closely linked to national security and there can be no compromise over the same.

Soon after the incident, a series of attacks on the Congress and the Punjab government came from the top BJP leaders, including union ministers and chief ministers.

The PM’s reported remark, where he asked security officials to thank Punjab chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi for being alive, could find resonance in other poll-bound states as well.

Though state elections are quite different from national polls, the Pulwama terror attack on a CRPF convoy in early 2019 and the resultant Balakot air strikes on terror camps in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir had flagged the national security issue and brought huge electoral gains for the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls that summer.

The incident

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cavalcade was stuck on a flyover in Punjab for nearly 20 minutes because of a protest. The PM returned to the airport in Bathinda because of the lapse. The PM was scheduled to address a rally in Ferozepur but the event had to be cancelled. After returning to New Delhi, the PM briefed President Ram Nath Kovind, who expressed concern over the issue.

BJP charge

Furious over the security breach, the BJP alleged conspiracy and demanded sacking of the Punjab CM. Union home minister Amit Shah said “repeated rejections” by people had taken the Congress “to the path of insanity”.

“The Congress-made event in Punjab is a trailer of how this party thinks and functions. Repeated rejections by the people have taken them to the path of insanity. The top most echelons of the Congress owe an apology to the people of India for what they have done,” Shah tweeted.

He further said, “The Ministry of Home Affairs has sought a detailed report on security breach in Punjab. Such dereliction of security procedure during the Prime Minister’s visit is totally unacceptable and accountability will be fixed.”

BJP chief JP Nadda accused the state police of collaborating with the protesters to cause the crisis saying that chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi refused to answer calls for help.

“State Police was instructed to prevent people from attending the rally…CM Channi refused to get on the phone to either address the matter or solve it,” Nadda tweeted.

UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath too slammed the Congress over the incident.

“The breach in security of Prime Minister reflects on mismanagement and poor state of affairs in Punjab. The Congress and Punjab government should tender an apology to the people of India,” Yogi said in a video statement.

“When the country is safe, only then we will all be safe. But some people want to break into it. The proof of it has come in front of the countrymen in the form of a ‘conspiracy’ in Punjab,” Yogi later said at an event in Varanasi.

The Punjab CM denied the charges and claimed there was “no security lapse” and “no situation of any attack”, adding that the PM’s convoy was stopped way before the spot where protesters had gathered.

“To remove any protest, it takes at least 10-20 minutes. The PM was informed about it and also offered a different route but he chose to leave,” Channi said.

Congress defence

The Congress party hit back at the BJP for creating a “political drama” and hurling allegations of “security breach”.

“BJP has tried to create a political drama of a so-called breach in the security of the Prime Minister. We reject the charge completely and comprehensively,” Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said.

“As PM changed his route last minute and travelled by road, a delay of 15 minutes in clearing farmers is projected as endangering his life. Did anyone attack PM’s convoy? Isn’t BJP insulting 3 crore Punjabis by such false bogey? He is India’s PM not BJP’s. Stop the fake noise,” he said.

The Congress spokesperson pointed out that PM Modi’s convoy had earlier got stuck in UP in 2017 and in Delhi in 2018 but there were no allegations of a security breach.

Detailing about the events on January 5, the Congress spokesperson said that PM Modi was to land at the Bathinda Air Force base and then fly in a chopper to Ferozepur for the BJP rally.

“As there were hardly any people in the rally and the PM and the BJP came to know about it, they were deeply annoyed. In order to get some more time or to find an excuse, the PM decided in the last minute to travel by road to Hussainiwala and then to the rally,” said Surjewala.

“Since, he is the Prime Minister, it was his decision. Necessarily, route was again deployed by the Punjab police. As Prime Minister was proceeding, the Kisan Sangharsh Committee and other farmers, a few hundreds of them, they blocked the route. As police was clearing them, the PM’s car cade had to wait for about 15 minutes. But the PM did not wait. He returned and then said this was a security breach,” he said.

According to the Congress spokesperson, the Punjab police was trying to clear the protest site and could not have fired at the farmers.

“What could the police have done, if the farmers suddenly came and they blocked the road to protest against Prime Minister Modi and BJP? Should they have been shot dead? Should we have fired and killed all those farmers? The police would have tried to physically lift and remove the blockade as the police force tried to do. They were neither militants, nor naxalites or terrorists and that’s why they were being physically removed. To do anything else would be unreasonable. How is that a security breach,” said Surjewala.

The Congress pointed out that it had lost two former prime ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi and knew the importance of prime minister’s security.

“We know how important the security of the Prime Minister is. Our chief minister will ensure that full security is given to the PM. Not like the government of Gujarat, which ensured that there was an attack on the car cade of Rahul Gandhi in 2017. We will never let that happen. We will never let anybody take law in his hands. Let’s not bring down the prestige and position of the office of the Prime Minister by petty political drama,” said the Congress chief spokesperson.