Stranded Modi on Punjab flyover exposes India’s farcical politics

The display of collective fury has been so over the top that the melodrama is threatening to turn what certainly was a serious lapse into a subject of mockery.

Irrespective of what they may say to absolve themselves -including that the Prime Minister’s road travel was planned at short notice - the Punjab police simply had no business to allow protesters block the route

Without a doubt, the security breach involving Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s convoy atop a flyover in Punjab was a big deal. For 20-odd minutes, the Prime Minister—stuck because of a road blockade by farmers—was a sitting duck. Though surrounded by his SPG guards, the Prime Minister would have been within striking distance of anyone with ulterior motives. We were plain lucky that Modi’s safety wasn’t compromised that day.

But what definitely was already a big deal has become much bigger, with the BJP turning it into a full-blown assassination plot.

The party has spared no effort to milk the security lapse for whipping up public sympathy for the Prime Minister and support for itself. In doing so, the BJP has let both its sycophantic leaders and its own imagination run riot.

While leader after leader is publicly praying for Modi’s long life and well-being, the party has even dropped dark hints about who could be behind the conspiracy to harm the Prime Minister—from the Congress-ruled state of Punjab to the Congress itself.

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Beginning with Union Minister Smriti Irani, who marshalled all her skills to look as grim as possible on television to express outrage over the lapse, it has certainly been a concerted show of indignation by the BJP.

But the display of collective fury has been so over the top that the melodrama is threatening to turn what certainly was a serious lapse into a subject of mockery. Look up your Twitter timeline and you would come across posts making fun of the episode. According to one of them, the Prime Minister apparently seeks votes on odd days citing security of the nation. On even days, it is his own ‘lack of security’ that he exploits to woo voters.

But it shouldn’t have come to this after all.

In a nation where we have lost a sitting Prime Minister and a former Prime Minister to assassins, the safety and security of the highest elected official is paramount. It is not about Modi, but about the institution of the Prime Minister.

And heads must certainly roll following whatever happened atop the Punjab flyover. Whatever I have understood from listening to experts, the SPG is responsible for the Prime Minister’s immediate proximity including the car he uses, while securing the route that he takes is the police’s responsibility.

Irrespective of what they may say to absolve themselves—including that the Prime Minister’s road travel was planned at short notice—the Punjab police simply had no business to allow protesters block the route. For that matter, Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi also had no business in attempting to defend the indefensible later by claiming that “demonstrating in India is a fundamental right.”

Also read: PM’s security lapse: SC asks Centre, Punjab to halt independent probes

Inquiries ordered into the breach—one by the Centre and the other by the state—are expected to reveal who was responsible. [The separate inquiries have been put on hold by the Supreme Court till Monday, January 10]. They will hopefully also throw light on the obvious trust deficit between the Centre and Punjab, as also how our security apparatus came to be caught so wrong-footed. Irrespective of whose fault it was, it is still inconceivable that our SPG with all the technology at its command would not know that a crowd was blocking the road ahead before driving the Prime Minister’s convoy on to a flyover not more than 10 km away from the border with Pakistan. Perhaps the goof-up was an unavoidable consequence of the manner in which almost every institution in our country has been allowed to weaken with patronage being systematically preferred over merit.

But what the twin probes will definitely not tell us is whether the Prime Minister really said what he was energetically quoted by our media as saying after aborting the road trip: “Thank your Chief Minister, at least I reached Bhatinda airport alive.” Did he really say this? And who did he say this to?

Whatever be the case, there is little doubt that the statement did set off a chain reaction, many of which could be misinterpreted as plain comedy had the subject at stake hadn’t been this serious.

The fallout of it all could be sinister as well. Since the security breach happened in Punjab, whose farmers had been at loggerheads with the Modi government over the recently repealed farm laws, some conspiracy theorists are seeing the hand of Khalistanis. Meanwhile, right-wing trolls on social media—convinced of an assassination plot—are already threatening Sikhs of reprisals as bad as the Delhi riots of 1984.

Undeterred though, BJP leaders are giving the traditional sycophants of the Congress a run for their money with their own display of devotion.

The Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister offered prayers at Bhopal’s Gufa (cave) temple while important dignitaries such as Jyotiraditya Scindia and Biplab Deb, the Tripura Chief Minister, recited ‘Mrityunjaya’ slokas. BJP activists staged dharnas across cities while party men in West Bengal met the Governor to submit a memorandum. What could the delegation have demanded and what assurance could the governor have given them?

We can only scratch our heads in bewilderment.

(The writer is former Editor-in-Chief of Outlook magazine).

(The Federal seeks to present views and opinions from all sides of the spectrum. The information, ideas or opinions in the articles are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Federal).

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