Armoured cars, jammers, snipers, route map, trial runs, dry runs, eyes in the sky… there is virtually nothing that is left unplanned when the Prime Minister of India travels. However, security goof-ups do keep happening like the one involving Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s convoy, on Wednesday (January 5).
The convoy was stranded for 15 to 20 minutes atop a flyover in Punjab’s Ferozepur. This has not only put the Punjab government and the police in an embarrassing situation but also piqued curiosity on the planning that goes into the PM’s security itinerary. Here is a lowdown:
Who plans the PM’s security
A lot of planning goes into ensuring the security of the prime minister ahead of his visit to any place. All security plans are drawn up in strict adherence to the Special Protection Group’s Blue Book.
The prime minister’s travel itinerary is first shared with the offices of the respective chief minister, home minister, director-general of police, and the chief secretary. Days prior to the event, the SPG, whose sole responsibility is to protect the prime minister, holds an Advance Security Liaison (ASL) with all agencies responsible to provide security including the Intelligence Bureau, state police and the district magistrate concerned. All details of the scheduled event is discussed and an ASL report is prepared, based on which the SPG charts out security arrangements.
The security plan is signed by all who attended the meeting including the Senior Superintendents of Police (SSP) and the District Magistrate (DM).
Every small detail, including how the prime minister would arrive – by road, rail or air – who would receive him, how he would reach the venue of the event etc. is discussed at the meeting and inputs of intelligence and local police are taken into consideration while laying out the security plan.
Ahead of the prime minister’s visit, the SPG takes stock of every minute security aspect of the venue – from combing the entry and exit points, seeing that attendees are frisked, ensuring that the dais is safe and the metal detectors are working to auditing the fire safety of the venue. The stat-run BSNL is also looped in to provide phone lines and internet connectivity near venues for the SPG and the PM’s office to function.
Nothing goes past the eye of the SPG. The weather of the scheduled day is factored in, any narrow routes are identified and fortified with more men, and even bushes, if any, on the route of the prime minister’s cavalcade are trimmed ahead of his visit.
While the security planning is done under the leadership of the SPG, which also provides proximate security to the prime minister with at least 40-60 officers present with him at any given time, it lies with the state police to ensure the overall security of the place the state head is visiting including gathering intelligence, clearing the route, sanitizing the venue and managing the crowd.
State police usually secure the route for the prime minister by deputing officers as well as snipers on rooftops. A pilot from the state police is also entrusted with leading the prime minister’s convoy. During meetings and rallies, which usually witness an overwhelming crowd, the local Superintendent of Police deputes officers in plainclothes, some of them even pretending to be party men.
The SPG would only allow the prime minister to move after getting a go ahead from the local police.
On the other hand, it falls upon, central intelligence agencies to tip off the SPG about any imminent threat or security breach.
The prime minister’s convoy has a minimum of five vehicles. It is led by a pilot warning vehicle, which is followed by a technical car, a VVIP car and then an ambulance. These vehicles are trailed by the cars of the SSP, the DM and local intelligence officials. All the vehicles as part of the prime minister’s convoy are thoroughly checked by the SPG.
What if there is a change in plan?
There is always a Plan B ready if the itinerary does not go as planned. An alternate route is always planned in advance, sanitized and secured with security personnel. In usual cases, it is the weather that plays spoilsport, as it reduces visibility, thwarting the prime minister from travelling by air. In such cases, the prime minister takes the alternate road.
“A lot of times during the winters, the prime minister has to take the road because of fog. Those routes have been planned and secured in advance. If for any reason the route is found to be not clear, the state police does not give the go-ahead. The visit is cancelled,” a news website quoted a senior police officer who has managed security of the prime minister in the past, as saying.
In case of protests, it is the local intelligence’s job to give inputs to the SPG on which groups are planning to protest on the event day and what steps have been taken to prevent and secure the path of the prime minister’s cavalcade. Usually, during such situations, the local police makes a list of potential protesters and detains them in advance while also ramping up surveillance, both electronic and physical, at different key routes to detect and quell any threat. In case, a protest that has already been planned cannot be cancelled, the route where it would be held is avoided altogether.
What went wrong in Punjab?
Prime Minister Modi’s cavalcade was stranded on a flyover in Ferozepur for around 15 to 20 minutes after farmer protesters blocked the route. Modi was on his way to the National Martyrs Memorial at the Hussainiwala border with Pakistan to lay foundation stones for developmental projects worth ₹42,750 crore and address a rally.
While this is being called a major security lapse on the part of Punjab Police, especially when the place is close to the Pakistan border with the BJP calling it a deliberate plot by the Congress government to harm the prime minister, Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Channi has rubbished the accusations, saying there was no threat to the PM’s life and that there was a sudden change in Modi’s route.
The Home Ministry, in a statement issued later in the day, claimed that the prime minister’s itinerary and detailed route was communicated to the state police in advance and that he proceeded on the road only after the DGP of Punjab Police confirmed about security arrangements on the route.
Demanding a detailed report from the Punjab Police on the “serious security lapse”, the Home Ministry in the statement has given a detailed account of what transpired on Wednesday.
According to the ministry, the prime minister was supposed to fly to the National Martyrs Memorial at Hussainiwala by a chopper after landing in Bathinda on Wednesday morning, but it was decided that he would take the road, a two-hour distance, due to inclement weather.
However, when the prime minister’s convoy reached a flyover, 30 km away from the memorial, the road was blocked by protesters. This stranded the prime minister’s convoy for 15-20 minutes.
“This was a major lapse in security of the prime minister. The prime minister’s schedule and travel plan was communicated well in advance to the Punjab government. As per procedure, they have to make necessary arrangements for logistics, security as well as keep a contingency plan ready,” the ministry said in the statement.
That the PM’s convoy was stuk atop a flyover makes it all the more grevious as he could have been a sitting duck. The Punjab government has already announced an investigation and a report has been sought in three days.
The fact that the PM got stuck on a flyover has only aggravated the situation as those familiar with the scenario say that he could have been a ‘sitting target.’
In 2006, the then Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, also was in a similar situation as the pilot car of his convoy drove into a small subway in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala’s capital. The pilot car was commandered by the state police and it was driven by a private individual. The PM’s convoy getting stuck in a subway caused quite a consternation in the security circles and the driver was taken into custody soon after the former reached the destination, Raj Bhawan.
The assessment then was that it was a ‘classic ambush situation’ as the convoy had no leeway to turn back inside the narrow subway. The driver, it was reported, was thorougly exhausted in the excruciating trial runs in the preceding days and was not used to the rigours of the security forces.
The most cooperative PM
The lore in the SPG is that PV Narasimha Rao was among the most-cooperative PMs from the security perspective. He would adhere to all that the SPG said and there were instances when the PM got off his catr and quitely walked back to his house when he was advised against movimg to certain locations as per ground reports from the police.