While the Indian National Congress (INC) and Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi still insist that there was no security breach involving Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s convoy on the Ludhiana-Ferozepur highway on 5 January, a section of politicians of the party believes their organisation should have taken a “more nuanced stand” rather than joining a political war of words with the BJP on such a sensitive issue.
On the one hand, these leaders feel the prime minister, the union government and the BJP did blow “the issue out of proportion”; on the other, they believe there was an element of “casualness” on the part of the Punjab government too, which cannot be “overlooked”. On the aspect, they say that the party should have adopted a “far more mature approach”.
Clearly, the INC is a house divided on the issue.
The day after the incident, Congress’ Ferozepur MLA Parminder Singh Pinky called it a big mistake by the DGP and asked why he did not look into alternate routes if farmers were protesting.
When asked if DGP should have looked into an alternative route, Pinky said, “Those who are responsible should be held guilty. This is a topic of insult in the whole world. Farmers were protesting that was their rights. The Prime Minister is not for one person but for the whole country. Therefore, if DGP is responsible, he should be held guilty.”
Attacking Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhwinder Singh Randhawa, who also holds the home portfolio, the Congress MLA said, “The deputy CM should have looked into it. The PM is was coming, we cannot play with the country’s security. It is a serious matter.”
The dominant section led by interim party president Sonia Gandhi in the party stresses that the prime minister gets away every time with his own narrative and, hence, he must be challenged aggressively at every step. Sources said 10 Janpath’s direction to the chief minister to institute an inquiry while letting the party attack the BJP, painting the ruling party’s fusillade as an attack on “Punjab and Punjabiyat”, was part of this calibrated approach.
But neither Sonia nor her son Rahul Gandhi has spoken to the press on the issue so far. “Any other prime minister would be focused on serious national security lapses in Pangong Tso and Arunachal Pradesh. But for the first time in 70 years, a prime minister is worried about the security threat from his own party workers?” tweeted Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge.
His colleague in the INC and spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi, however, said, “All the three principal stakeholders — PMO, union government and state government — must rise above politics to genuinely solve omissions and lacunae if any, which may lie at all quarters.”
INC MP from Punjab Manish Tewari, who had demanded a probe by a sitting high court judge, arguing that what had happened in Ferozepur was “unfortunate”, said,
If there has been a security breach in terms of what was ostensibly articulated by the prime minister when he returned to the Bathinda airport or what is being said by the Ministry of Home Affairs officially then it warrants an independent probe.
“Now that Supreme Court is seized of the matter we will have to wait and see what the court decides,” he said. While the INC insists that there was no security breach, Tewari said “now that the courts will determine”.
A Congress politician said under the condition of anonymity it was a fact that the state police had been “casual” and “there was no less lapse on the part of the union government or the home ministry”. He said the party’s argument that the prime minister returned because there was thin attendance at the rally “set us on the wrong foot”.
Senior INC leader Harish Rawat said the prime minister’s security was a collective responsibility of central agencies like SPG and the state police. “When there was a change in the prime minister’s programme and when he decided to take the road, the route should have been sanitised. And in view of the situation arising out of the farmers’ protest and the warning that they had given… it should have been reconfirmed that there is no possibility of someone blocking the road. That did not happen.”
But Rawat also said, ignoring the risk involved, that if the prime minister’s cavalcade had waited for half an hour more, such a situation could have been averted.