Who took the decision to travel by road?
The Prime Minister has one of the most comprehensive and elaborate and well laid down security setups in India. As a result the holdup of 15-20 minutes earlier this month at an overbridge around 35 km from the border with Pakistan has caused much concern, mostly through the utterings of some central ministers, including the defence minister, and the PM’s own words on his return to Bathinda.
These central ministers and some chief ministers in their show of loyalty to the PM have been painting an unduly grim and unrealistic picture of the incident.
The PM was on his way to Hussainiwala to pay homage at the Bhagat Singh memorial and then address an election rally at Ferozepur. From Bathinda he was to fly in a VVIP Mi-17 all-weather helicopter to Hussaniwala across flat and featureless terrain, but instead he was moved by road. So the first question to be addressed is why he was taken by road instead of helicopter.
It would have taken the PM only about 30 minutes to reach Hussainiwala by helicopter, while the same journey by road would take two and half hours. Did the Air Force at Bathinda not clear the helicopter to fly or was the decision to travel by road taken independent of inputs from the airport control tower?
The second issue relates to sanitizing the road from Bathinda airport to Hussainiwalla, a distance of about 130 km, and why this could not be done. Reportedly the farmers’ group that had blocked the route was supposed to initially move to the District Collector’s office and stage a dharna there. Given their known grit and perseverance, these protesting farmers could only have been removed violently – by the police opening fire, which would have had repercussions for both the Congress and the BJP.
The PM’s motorcade was stopped for 15-20 minutes on an overbridge, about one km short of the farmers’ protest site. All through this period the PM sat inside his bulletproof car, protected from all sides by SPG personnel.
Some commentators have argued that being so close to the border, Pakistan could have struck the PM’s car with an explosive loaded drone. But if a drone attack on the PM is Pakistan’s aim then the Bhagat Singh memorial location right on the border or even the rally site at Ferozepur, which is much closer to the border offered Pakistan far better opportunity for a drone attack.
A drone attack on the Indian PM would certainly lead to war between these two countries. Do the Indian intelligence agencies believe that Pakistan is desperate enough to start a war with India? Perhaps the presence of an extremely thin crowd at the rally site has more to do with this whole episode.
On his return to Bathinda airport, the PM is alleged to have stated that Punjab’s chief minister should be thanked for his being able to return alive. All these 15-20 minutes that his convoy was held up at the bridge, he sat in that bulletproof car, surrounded by SPG personnel, and did not even lower the window, so the PM’s safety and security were never compromised.
What is undesirable and unacceptable is that the PM of the country came to be stranded in this manner. The protesters were about a kilometre away and the only group that came close to his car were a crowd carrying a large BJP flag and shouting slogans for the PM’s long life. The SPG personnel made no effort whatsoever to keep these men away from the PM’s car. In the video, some of these demonstrators can easily be identified.
For the PM to state that he had come out alive, gives one the impression that he had walked through a hail of bullets and exploding shells. Equally, this is not the first time that the PM’s convoy was stopped by demonstrators. Once on an earlier occasion, it had to change route to bypass demonstrators blocking the designated route.
On another occasion, he was seen moving through a narrow and crowded lane with demonstrators opening his car door and putting a turban on his head. So why play up the current incident so acrimoniously and vehemently?
The issue of concern is the way some of the central ministers have picked up this incident and to it added their own imaginary fears and brought in the Khalistani angle, which does not auger well for the unity and cohesiveness of the people of this country.
Punjabis and Sikhs are one of the most patriotic people and would willingly sacrifice their lives to safeguard the life of their PM. That is what the Chief Minister of Punjab stated, in very clear terms, that he would cover the PM and take the bullet in his chest if ever such a situation were to arise.
To get a glimpse of the national spirit and ever willingness of Punjabis to lay down their lives in defence of the country, one need only take a walk through the National War Memorial near India Gate and see how disproportionately high are their casualties vis-à-vis their numbers within the nation.
So this unnecessary politicizing of this issue, to gain some political brownie points will do no good and on the other hand cause divisiveness and unwanted animosity amongst communities. LT-GEN HARWANT SINGH (RETD)