The breach in the Prime Minister’s security was disturbing last week as were the reactions that came from the highest ranks of our political leadership. Instead of uniting to examine why the security breach happened, what we saw was partisan politics play out in a way that proved that our politicians have a long way to go before they learn to respect the institutions that hold up our democracy. The office of the Prime Minister of India is one of the most important of our democratic institutions. When it comes under threat, it is India that comes under threat, not the individual who happens to occupy the post. This is something that went almost unnoticed in the histrionics and hysteria that followed the ominous incident in which the Prime Minister’s cavalcade was stranded on a high bridge for 20 minutes. This at a time when Punjab is seeing the first signs of a return to the darkest era in this state’s history.
That was a time when the military men who control the Islamic Republic next door had infiltrated its agents not just into the ranks of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale’s army but into the ranks of Punjab’s administrative and law enforcement machinery. In recent days there have been scary signs of this happening again. Men have been beaten to death for unproven acts of sacrilege in gurdwaras. A suicide bomber accidentally blew himself up in a courthouse toilet not long ago and reports of drones dropping arms, drugs and Khalistani propaganda pamphlets on our side of the Punjab border have become routine. So, there is no question that the Prime Minister’s cavalcade could have come under attack in the 20 minutes that it was stranded on a high bridge.
Had the Government of India taken the breach in the Prime Minister’s security perimeter seriously, it would cooperate with the Punjab government to investigate what went wrong. Instead, the immediate reaction from Modi’s senior ministers was to openly accuse the Punjab government with ‘conniving’ in a plot to harm the Prime Minister. The day after the incident, BJP chief ministers ensured that TV cameras recorded their visits to temples to give thanks for Modi having survived what they said publicly was an attempt to kill him.
If the BJP’s top leaders behaved as if it was their leader, Narendra Modi, and not the institution of the Prime Minister of India, whose security was endangered, the Congress party responded with competitive immaturity. First reactions came even as pictures of the Prime Minister’s stranded cavalcade were flashing across our TV screens and going viral on social media. Congress leaders who should know better made vulgar comments that were in such bad taste that they will not be repeated in this space. In making them they proved that despite long years of being our ruling party they have not understood the importance of respecting democratic institutions like the office of the Prime Minister.
Politicians who put the country above their narrow partisan politics are what we need at this time, and it must be sadly said that there appears to be a serious dearth of them. An exception has been Manish Tewari who made the only sensible comments I heard last week. In an interview to India Today he said that instead of separate inquiries in Delhi and Punjab that, in this atmosphere of poisonous polarisation, will have minimal credibility, there should be a judicial inquiry into what happened that day. This could be the only way in which we will ever know what really happened. There are many, many unanswered questions.
Why did the SPG (Special Protection Group) not know in advance that there were protestors blocking the Prime Minister’s route? When they found out, instead of just standing around, why did they not immediately ensure that the Prime Minister was moved to a safe location? Videos have now surfaced of BJP supporters carrying party flags hovering inside the security perimeter of the Prime Minister’s car. Why was this allowed? If it is true that someone in the Punjab Police told protesting farmers that the Prime Minister would be passing that way, why did this happen?
Instead of allowing hysteria about how the Congress party ‘hates’ Modi and prayers in temples that appear meant for TV cameras and not the gods, Modi needs to order his ministers and chief ministers to take what happened more seriously. When it is the Prime Minister’s security that is clearly breached, then it is not a BJP problem but a national problem. If, while his cavalcade was stalled on a high point, it had come under attack by trained snipers, it would have led to a national crisis. And if Pakistan’s fingerprints were found perhaps, even war. So it is the duty of the governments of India and Punjab to allow a full investigation by a judge. In the poisonously partisan atmosphere that exists today, this is the most important thing that needs to happen.
We are talking about a breach in the security of a vital democratic institution and not of an individual, so the truth of what happened on that foggy, rainy afternoon last week must be fully and impartially investigated. The BJP’s endless, dreary narrative about how anyone who asks questions is really someone who ‘hates’ Modi must be suspended for now in the national interest. This is about national security, not politics.