Listen to this article:
Chandigarh: While the Congress government in Punjab on January 6, Thursday appointed a high-level panel to probe the alleged ‘security breach’ during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Ferozepur rally on Wednesday, the row over the incident continues to escalate with the Bharatiya Janata Party now describing it as a “plot” to assassinate the prime minister.
The assassination plot appears to have emerged after the prime minister’s “I could return alive” remark he made while heading back to the Bhatinda airport on Wednesday as quoted by news agency ANI.
However, the statements and facts emerged so far suggest that the Punjab Police was caught off guard with the sudden appearance of a farmers’ jatha led by Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) (Krantikari) on the route devised for the prime minister’s cavalcade after his original plan to reach Ferozepur by helicopter was called off due to bad weather.
Zonal in-charge of BKU (Krantikari), Baldev Singh Zira, told The Wire that they had no clue Prime Minister Modi was to travel on a route which they had blocked.
He said as many as ten farmer unions had in advance declared that they would oppose the prime minister’s rally in the poll-bound state because he was yet to fulfill the promises based on which the farmers’ movement was suspended last month.
BKU (Krantikari) is active in ten districts of Punjab, Zira said. “Our original plan was to show black flags to the prime minister near the election rally. Accordingly, we mobilised around 300 farmers from different villages in Ferozepur and reached the main Moga-Ferozepur highway near Piyareana village that is located right on the highway,” he said.
“We requested the police patrolling there to let us proceed towards the rally venue that was not far away from there, approximately 6 kilometre.”
He added, “When the police did not allow us to proceed, we sat there on the highway itself and decided that we will not let the BJP workers go towards the venue.”
‘Under the impression that PM would be travelling by air’
As informed by Zira, their union blocked the highway at 12 pm, which means that the prime minister’s cavalcade was already on its way by that time. Modi landed in Bathinda at about 10:20 am.
His plan, as stated in the ministry of home affairs (MHA) statement, was to first visit the National Martyrs Memorial at Hussainiwala near Ferozepur by helicopter and then to the rally venue on Moga-Ferozepur road.
Due to rain and poor visibility, the prime minister waited for about 20 minutes for the weather to clear out.
As per MHA, when the weather did not improve, it was decided that he would visit the memorial via road, which was around 120 km from the Bathinda airport.
While Prime Minister Modi’s cavalcade traveled close to 100 km through Bathinda and Faridkot district without any obstruction, it was made to halt on a flyover approximately 1 km upstream of the protesting site of BKU (Krantikari) on the Moga-Ferozepur highway.
On whether they were aware that the prime minister’s cavalcade was to pass through the highway that they had blocked, Zira said they were not aware. “We sat only to block BJP supporters,” he told.
Zira said, “We were under the impression that the prime minister would be traveling by air. When the police told us that the prime minister would use this route to reach the rally venue, we thought that the police were there in order to disperse us.”
He claimed, “We were not even aware that the Prime Minister Modi’s cavalcade was stuck at the flyover near us. We only got to know about it after he left for Bathinda after waiting there for 20 minutes. We cleared the highway at about 4 pm.”
‘Clash on the highway’
Meanwhile, the Times of India quoted BJP state committee member Amit Taneja who claimed he too was trapped at the highway before Modi’s cavalcade reached there. He claimed that they tried to persuade the farmers to clear the road, but to no avail. Even the police could not do anything to clear the highway.
“In the melee, there were some clashes between protesters and the BJP workers in which our three to four BJP workers sustained injuries,” he said.
While BKU (Krantikari) president Surjit Phul did not respond to calls from The Wire, Zira, on the other hand, refused these claims.
He said BJP’s allegations were baseless. “In fact they had attacked us. But people intervened and eased the situation. To start with, we were 300 protesters, but later our number grew as people from nearby villages too joined us.”
He claimed, “We wanted to register our protest and did not know that Modi got stuck at the flyover some distance from where our activists were holding a protest.”
‘Police helped protesters to block highway,’ claimed BJP leader
BJP leader and retired IAS officer S.R. Ladhar, however, told The Wire that the protesters were waiting there, and the police themselves helped them sit and block the highway.
“I was privy to it since I was passing through the same highway. To begin with, there were few protesters at the highway. The policemen present there could stop them from blocking the highway. But they did nothing. Later more farmers joined them and there was commotion all around,” he said.
“At 12.50 pm, I personally called Ferozepur deputy commissioner and apprised him of the situation. Some senior police officers came later, but did nothing,” he claimed.
Ladhar said that it was a major security breach of the prime minister’s cavalcade. “Why the police failed to get the highway cleared. They had all the resources to ensure safe passage to the prime minister. If the police had realised that protesters were adamant and not ready to clear the highway, why did they not immediately alert the agencies escorting the prime minister’s cavalcade?” he asked.
He added, “Anything could have happened when the prime minister had to halt for 20 minutes on the flyover since people came too close to his cavalcade. It is the biggest failure on the part of Punjab Police,” he said.
He also confirmed that there were clashes between BJP workers and protesters to get the highway cleared, but police were seen helping the protesters rather than the BJP workers.
‘Investigating how protesters suddenly appeared and blocked highway’
Meanwhile, Punjab’s additional director general of police (cyber cell) G. Nageswara Rao, who was overall in-charge for the prime minister’s security plan could not be reached. Moga senior superintendent of police (SSP) Charanjit Singh, who was part of the ground security of the prime minister, told The Wire that the highway on which Prime Minister Modi was travelling was completely closed for normal traffic.
“Only rally bound traffic and VIP movement was allowed on the highway, but we are checking how from one point so many protesters suddenly appeared and then they blocked the highway. So many factors, including rain, had their own role to play. All aspects are being checked,” he said.
An official said that negotiations were made with the protesters, but they did not budge and clear the highway.
When contacted, SSP Ferozepur Harmandeep Hans, declined to make any comment. He said that an inquiry is being conducted, adding, “I will officially submit my statement on all aspects that were under my supervision.”
While chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi officially claimed that there was no security breach as the problem in Prime Minister Modi’s journey happened due to last minute travel plan change. The MHA, however, stated that Prime Minister Modi proceeded to travel by road after “necessary confirmation of necessary security arrangements” by the DGP Punjab Police.
Did Punjab fail on a contingency plan?
As per procedure, the Punjab government was supposed to make necessary arrangements for logistics, security, besides keeping a contingency plan ready, MHA claimed in a press statement.
The contingency plan, as per security experts, is prepared in advance for the prime minister’s visits to ensure that if the original travel plan is disturbed, contingency is set in motion.
But as MHA alleged, in view of the contingency plan, the Punjab government had to deploy additional security to secure any movement by road, which were clearly not deployed.
“As checked, ADGP (Security) Punjab issued an internal order dated January 1, 2022 through which Punjab cops in Bathinda zone were directed to make sufficient security arrangements ahead of the prime minister’s visit. Apart from that, directions were issued to watch on the movement of protesters and they should not be allowed to move to Ferozepur district before the rally.”
Similar orders were issued later too. But as it appeared, there was no foolproof planning and execution on the contingency plan.
Besides, the police also failed to map the movement of farmers in and around the protest rally.
A DSP-level officer posted near the rally venue told The Wire that his original duty was to regulate the traffic going towards the rally. “We were informed to secure the highway from where the prime minister had to pass at the last minute. I have no idea whether there was advance planning for the alternate travel plan during the prime minister’s visit,” he said.
BJP’s “assassinate” plot claim
After Prime Minister Modi’s “I could come back alive” remark, the BJP released on its official Twitter handle a video while claiming that Wednesday’s episode was a “conspiracy to attack and kill Modi”.
“Who was behind the possible attack on Modi? Was it in Pakistan? Was it Khalistanis? Or Was it Congress?” it stated.
The video then ran different bytes of protesting farmers to claim that his rally was deliberately sabotaged.
The video further claimed that despite the Punjab government promising a clear route to Prime Minister Modi’s road visit to the rally site, the back door entry was given to protesters, thereby halting the prime minister’s cavalcade for 20 minutes.
“Was it an attempt to attack or assassinate him,” it asked, further running the media reports of Prime Minister Modi’s “I come back alive” statement. Strangely, ANI that ran this statement did not quote anyone who was privy to Modi’s statement. The statement was attributed to “sources”.
Channi: ‘PM’s life threat, a mere gimmick’
In a statement released on Thursday, chief minister Channi said that the narrative that there was a “threat to the life” of Prime Minister Modi was “a mere gimmick” and was aimed at toppling a democratically elected government in the state.
He unequivocally said that there was no threat to the life of the prime minister, but he cancelled his programme on Wednesday because of the thin presence of people in BJP’s rally.
He said that “empty chairs” annoyed the prime minister on his visit to the state due to which he went back to the national capital citing frivolous reasons of “security threat”. Channi said that the false pretext on which the Prime Minister Modi cancelled his visit was a part of a larger conspiracy to defame Punjab and murder democracy in the state on lines of what was done earlier in Jammu and Kashmir.
The chief minister said that how can the life of a prime minister be threatened if the protesters were more than a kilometre away from him. He further said that no slogans were raised at the place where Modi’s cavalcade stopped.
Channi reminded the Modi that Punjabis had sacrificed life for unity, integrity and sovereignty of the country, adding that they can never pose any danger to life and security of the prime minister.
The chief minister said that Prime Minister Modi was a respected leader of the nation, but it did not behoove a leader of his stature to indulge in such “cheap theatricals”.
He added that the weather was poor on Wednesday and on Thursday, but there were very few takers for the BJP’s rally on Wednesday. In contrast, Congress’s rallies across the state were swelling with people, he said.
Meanwhile, various police officers The Wire spoke to mentioned that they did not want to take strict action against the farmers once they blocked the highway, since the situation in the state had already been very sensitive for the last one year due to the peasants’ strike.
As per the media reports, Punjab DGP was in favour of police action to disperse the protesters before Prime Minister Modi’s cavalcade was to pass through the portion of the highway they had occupied. But no stern action was taken.
On Wednesday, Channi justified his government’s decision not to disperse the farmers by force. He said, “The farmers have been agitating peacefully for the last one year. I’m not going to lathi-charge farmers. We spoke to farmers the whole last night after which they ended their agitation. On Sunday some agitators suddenly gathered in the Ferozepur district.”
‘PM should not make irresponsible statements’: SKM
Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), an aegis of farmer unions, released a statement on Thursday evening, saying that 10 farmer organisations affiliated to the SKM had announced a symbolic protest for the arrest of Union minister Ajay Mishra, along with other outstanding demands. The protest had been planned after receiving the news of Prime Minister Modi’s proposed visit to Punjab on January 5, it said.
For this purpose, the farmer organisations prepared to protest and burn effigies at the village level across the state on January 2 and at district and tehsil headquarters on January 5. However, there was no programme to stop the prime minister’s visit or obstruct his journey.
As per the pre-determined schedule, peaceful protests were held at every district and tehsil headquarters of Punjab on January 5. When some farmers were stopped by the police administration from going to the district headquarters of Ferozepur, they protested by sitting on the roads at many places. Of these, the flyover near Piareana village was also a part, where the prime minister’s convoy had to stop and went back, it further said.
The SKM also clarified that the protesting farmers had no concrete information that the prime minister’s convoy was going to pass through the road. They got this information from the media after the his return, it added.
“It is clear from the video of the occasion that the protesting farmers did not even make any effort to go towards the prime minister’s convoy. Only a group with BJP flag and raising “Narendra Modi Zindabad” slogan had reached near that convoy. Therefore, the threat to the life of the prime minister seems completely concocted,” it said.
“It is a matter of great regret that to cover up the failure of his rally, the prime minister has tried to malign both the state of Punjab and the farmers’ movement by using the pretext of “somehow his life was saved”. The whole country knows that if there is a threat to life, then it is for the farmers, from the criminals like Ajay Mishra ‘Teni’ becoming ministers and roaming freely. The SKM expects the prime minister of the country to not make such irresponsible statements keeping in mind the dignity of his post,” it said.