Prime Minister Narendra Modi had to return to Delhi on Wednesday without completing his Ferozepur election fixture due to the negligence of the government of Punjab and its police. The state is ruled by the Congress. This is probably the first time that a Prime Minister’s route was blocked and his security was compromised while the local administration remained a mute spectator. Punjab chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi should remember that whenever any leader has played with Narendra Modi’s security while being CM or PM, he has had to pay a heavy political price for it. The last two decades have been witness to this.
The pictures of the halted convoy of the PM in Ferozepur have sent the people of the country into shock. In recent decades, one can’t recall a Prime Minister’s convoy being stopped because of a road blockade and the PM having to return after waiting for about twenty minutes.
The incident happened on the flyover near Piyariyana village in Ferozepur district. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had reached Bathinda by air from Delhi. From there he had to first go to the National Martyrs Memorial at Hussainiwala by helicopter, and then he was to address a public meeting in Ferozepur.
But due to bad weather, it was not possible for the PM to go to Hussainiwala by helicopter. So, Modi decided to go by road, which was to take about two hours. He wanted to pay homage to Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev, who were cremated there on March 23, 1931. PM Modi wanted to address the gathering in Ferozepur only after bowing his head at the memorial of the martyrs.
But the intention of the Channi government, local administration and police of Punjab was different. Channi did not go to Bathinda on the pretext that one of his close officers was suffering from Covid; the chief secretary and incharge DGP also disappeared. This was a serious breach of administrative and political etiquette. Tradition is that whenever the Prime Minister reaches a state, he is received by the CM, chief secretary and DGP.
But far from going by official etiquette here, the security of the PM was undermined. On the one hand, the DGP assured the SPG about the foolproof security arrangements for the PM’s convoy to reach Hussainiwala by road, while on the other, when the convoy was stopped by agitating farmers just thirty kilometres before Hussainiwala, the officer could not be contacted. The same was the case with Channi with all attempts to contact him failing.
After waiting on the flyover for twenty minutes, the PM had to return to Bathinda and from there to Delhi. Due to the gross negligence of the state government, Modi could neither visit the martyr’s memorial nor could he hold his meeting. He had to cancel the event. When union health minister Mansukh Mandaviya, who was present in Ferozepur where the meeting was to be held, had to announce that the PM would not be able to make it there, it left thousands of BJP supporters standing in the rain disappointed as they had come to hear the Prime Minister and now that was not possible. Mandaviya himself expressed his pain and said that Congress had destroyed the sanctity of democracy and the day was even darker than Emergency, as people had gathered to witness the PM announce schemes worth Rs 42,000 crore, but now with the meeting cancelled they were all disappointed and this could be seen writ large on their faces.
Surprisingly, neither Punjab CM Channi nor his party, the Congress, had any regret for this gross negligence. On the contrary, many party leaders were seen expressing happiness that Modi had to return to Delhi due to strong opposition from the farmers. The party’s youth wing president Srinivas BV even took a jibe at the PM and tweeted, “Modi ji, how is the josh!”
Former Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh castigated the Channi government for this incident that happened just 10 kilometres away from the India-Pakistan border. Even Sunil Jakhad, the former chief of Congress’s Punjab unit, who is not on good terms with Channi these days, criticised the state government. As far as the BJP was concerned, it clearly said that under the guise of the protests, Pakistan, Khalistan supporters and the Congress had conspired to carry out a deadly attack on the Prime Minister and at the same time provoke bloodshed in the country but sensing this PM Modi cancelled his trip and came back to Delhi to foil the efforts. It was only appropriate for the PM to return as, had he proceeded, some mishap might have occurred, the party said.
But it seems that for the central unit of the Congress, it did not make any difference. On the contrary, instead of expressing regret over the lapses, the official line of the party was that there was no crowd in Modi’s meeting, so he cancelled it and tried to put the blame on the state government. The party was seen completely on the same page with Channi. When after many hours of the incident, Channi faced the camera, he blamed PM Modi and the SPG, asking how he could have removed the peaceful farmers. Covid, which was the reason for Channi to remain absent from welcoming the PM at Bathinda, was not at all a concern for him later and he was seen comfortably giving his political statement by removing the mask in front of the media.
This needs to be considered that the peaceful agitation, which Channi was talking about, Surjit Phool, president of the farmers’ organisation Bharatiya Kisan Sangh-Krantikari, which has claimed responsibility for the gherao, road jam and dharna, was arrested in 2009 under various sections of the UAPA and was in jail for five months. This organisation is considered to have a radical Leftist leaning and many of its leaders are said to have links with Maoists. In the eyes of Channi, this organisation and the farmers associated with it are apostles of peace.
One cannot deny the possibility that some untoward incident was waiting to happen in Ferozepur. The SPG, which takes care of the security of the Prime Minister, provides only a close security cordon and the responsibility of providing protection from the road to the outer circle lies with the local police and state administration. Obviously, the Punjab Police did not perform its duty properly. The incharge DGP Siddharth Chattopadhyay could not even be expected to, as he was not even considered suitable by the UPSC this Tuesday to be included in the selection panel created for the regular DGP of the state and whom chief minister Channi has given the post only because state Congress president Navjot Singh Sidhu put pressure. Sidhu, who is always keen on the limelight, was also conspicuous by his absence.
A lot of talk is going on about the lapses that happened in the security of PM Modi. The Nehru-Gandhi family’s annoyance with him is well known. People are speculating about whether Channi, hand-picked by the family for the chief minister’s post, remained negligent to please his high command or an incompetent police chief did not perform his duty properly, which resulted in the PM not being able to hold his meeting in the state. There is also conjecture on whether the ruling Congress in the state took a conscious decision to block the PM’s way in the state after due calculations. Obviously, the answer lies somewhere in between. There are also reports that the police wanted to act tough to clear the route but the political leadership refused, calculating the electoral advantages and disadvantages. The biggest question was who leaked the information about the PM’s route to the farmers’ organisations and then why deliberately allowed them to reach there. Obviously, the farmers were goaded to do this by someone from within the system.
But Channi must learn from history. There have been instances in the past two decades when chief ministers of different states tried to play around with Narendra Modi, especially with his security. But instead of being able to harm Modi, the CMs had to pay a heavy price for this.
Nitish Kumar, who had been running the government in Bihar with the BJP since 2005 after the end of the Lalu-Rabri era, broke the 17-year-old alliance on June 16, 2013, when Narendra Modi was given the reins of the campaign by the BJP for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The announcement of the appointment of the chairman of the campaign committee was made on June 9, 2013, in Goa. Nitish Kumar then expelled BJP ministers from his government.
Four months later, on October 27, 2013, Modi’s Hunkar rally was organised in Patna, by which time he had also been declared the official candidate for the Prime Minister’s post by the BJP. The Modi wave was clearly visible across the country. For the Hunkar rally, lakhs of people had reached Gandhi Maidan in Patna.
But even as Modi had reached Patna airport to address the rally, a string of explosions rocked Gandhi Maidan. Central intelligence agencies had already expressed apprehensions that Modi’s rally was on the target of jihadi terrorist groups. Despite this, the Bihar Police neither launched a special drive to nab the conspirators nor did they keep a tight vigil at the venue of the rally. Because of this, the terrorists were successful in their plan and managed to plant IEDs at different locations in Gandhi Maidan. The incident claimed the lives of six people and 89 others were injured in the seven blasts. Nitish was also the home minister of the state at that time under whom the Bihar Police was working. Questions were also asked about Nitish’s attitude apart from the police’s conduct.
Modi though remained steadfast. He kept getting the news of repeated blasts at Gandhi Maidan but he was determined. Despite resistance from the IB and his security personnel, Modi reached Gandhi Maidan to address the rally, where, despite the blasts, people in the packed ground stood with great enthusiasm to listen to their beloved leader. Modi gave a roaring speech, emphasising on politics of development instead of bombs and explosives. As a result, in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in Bihar, people put 31 out of the total 40 seats in the NDA’s bag. Out of these, 22 seats went to the BJP, six to Ram Vilas Paswan’s party LJP and three to Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP.
During the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Nitish Kumar’s party JD(U) was reduced to just two seats. Unhappy with the result, he left the post of chief minister of Bihar immediately after the polls and Jitan Ram Manjhi was made the CM as a Dalit face. In the 2015 assembly elections, Nitish contested in alliance with Lalu Prasad’s RJD. It’s the same RJD that Nitish had blamed for the ‘Jungle Raj’ in the state previously and had earned the epithet ‘Sushasan Babu’ during his rule in the state in concert with the BJP.
But the poorly matched alliance did not last long. Within just two years, Nitish Kumar got fed up and broke up the RJD and then formed the government in Bihar in 2017 with the help of the BJP. The irony was that while running the state from 2005 to 2013 in collaboration with the BJP, Nitish Kumar, who did not even allow Narendra Modi to come to Bihar for election campaigning, had to win the 2020 assembly elections with the help of the same Modi’s credibility, acknowledging him as the strongest campaigner of the NDA, sharing the stage with him. It was a different matter that the BJP emerged as the biggest party in these elections, and JD(U) as the junior partner.
Nitish Kumar, who was once considered a strong contender for the post of Prime Minister, has been pushed to the margins of national politics and he himself has said many times that he does not consider himself a candidate for the post of PM. Playing with the security of Modi in October 2013 extracted a heavy price from him and this is for everyone to see. As far as that incident is concerned, a special NIA court last October convicted nine Indian Mujahideen and SIMI terrorists for planning and carrying out the bomb blasts, four of whom were sentenced to death.
Ajit Singh, the son of Chaudhary Charan Singh and the minister of civil aviation in the UPA government, also found a tiff with Modi very expensive. This anecdote is also related to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Modi was holding half a dozen rallies daily in different parts of the country around February-March. The dates for the Lok Sabha elections had already been announced and as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Modi was canvassing in various regions. He would take a flight from Ahmedabad every morning and return late in the evening to his official CM residence in Gandhinagar. Every minute of his was precious: after all, Modi was not only the official prime ministerial candidate, he was also the biggest campaigner for BJP and NDA.
Modi had reached Baghpat on March 29, 2014, for his election campaign. The area had been a stronghold of Chaudhary Charan Singh’s family since his time and Ajit Singh had been winning elections from here continuously since 1989, except in 1998, when he was defeated by Sompal Shastri. In such a situation, to corner Ajit Singh on the home turf, the BJP fielded Satyapal Singh, who had once been Ajit Singh’s OSD and was a senior IPS officer of Maharashtra cadre before jumping into the electoral arena. He had served as Mumbai police commissioner.
Modi, who had come to an election rally in support of Satyapal Singh, had targeted Ajit Singh and said that the Congress did not allow Chaudhary Charan Singh to stay on the post of Prime Minister, and sitting in the lap of the same Congress, Ajit Singh had insulted his father. Not only this, but Modi also said that Chaudhary Charan Singh was a grassroots leader, and Ajit Singh lived in the clouds, whom the people would send home instead of Parliament.
Modi had taunted Ajit Singh, that too on his home turf. Ajit Singh was probably very unhappy about this. It was also a coincidence that Ajit Singh, who, Modi said, lived in the clouds, had the civil aviation ministry in the last years of the UPA 2 government when the Lok Sabha elections were to be held. Perhaps it was in this anger that Ajit Singh passed on a message to his subordinate officers and two days after the Baghpat rally when Modi was preparing to fly from Delhi to Bareilly on April 1, 2014, DGCA and ATC did not give him permission for two hours. The excuse was that due to the Bareilly airport being under the control of the Air Force, there was a long delay in getting the air defence clearance.
Due to this, Modi was late by more than two hours in reaching the meeting in Bareilly, where people were waiting for him since morning. Modi had reached Delhi airport at 9.30 am but he had to wait in the aircraft for a long time before take-off.
But Modi’s troubles were only going to increase that day. After finishing the Bareilly meeting, when Modi boarded a helicopter to go to Rewa, it was allowed to take off. For nearly an hour, a sweat-drenched Modi remained seated in the helicopter on a scorching summer day, his security personnel worried and supporters and local leaders speechless as to what was happening. After sitting in the helicopter at the helipad for about an hour, Modi was allowed to take off.
Because of this, Modi, who reached Rewa three hours late, expressed his anguish in front of the people, apologising to them for the delay. He said that the UPA government and its ministers can delay, stop the flight, but the public has decided to drive away the UPA government which refuses to change.
It was either a mere coincidence or a well-planned conspiracy that in the days when all this was happening to Modi, the flights of many senior leaders of his party were also being delayed: whether it was the flight of the-then party president Rajnath Singh or the huge delay in allowing the take-off of the-then Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh’s chopper. Modi himself had realised this two months earlier, when party leaders, for a rally to be held at Kolkata’s Brigade Ground in February, planned to bring Modi by helicopter to the nearest Race Course Ground helipad in view of the traffic. But permission was denied at the last moment.
While all this was happening to Modi and his party colleagues, the BJP had also officially approached the Election Commission that the flights of their senior leaders were being deliberately delayed or landing was not allowed. Obviously, as Ajit Singh was the civil aviation minister at that time, the needle of suspicion was pointing towards him that he was doing all this either because of a personal grudge or at the behest of the Congress.
Despite doing all this, when the election results came, Ajit Singh and his party faced a crushing defeat. Ajit Singh lost to Satyapal Singh, who was a novice in politics. The same situation prevailed in Mathura, where Ajit Singh’s son Jayant Chaudhary was easily defeated by ‘Dream Girl’ Hema Malini. Other candidates of Ajit Singh’s party also faced defeat. Even Jayaprada lost the election from Bijnor. Her mentor Amar Singh could not come to terms with the RLD ticket and lost from Fatehpur Sikri. The Modi wave drowned both SP and RLD in the electoral battle. Obviously, Ajit Singh had to pay a big political price for messing with Modi. BJP today is standing firmly on the Jatland that used to be the RLD leader’s stronghold. Now his son Jayant Chaudhary is trying to find a foothold in his ancestral turf.
The same thing happened with N Chandrababu Naidu as well. Once the darling of Corporate India as the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, Chandrababu Naidu was one of the most important leaders of the NDA, who made a strong mark in terms of investment and development. He himself once dreamt of becoming the PM. By 2018, he too had left the NDA and become a staunch political enemy of Modi. Roaming across the country, he kept mobilising people against Modi. This was fine but then he took his anger with Modi towards personal enmity.
Before Modi’s rally was to be held in Guntur on January 6, 2019, Naidu and his party TDP crossed all limits of politics against Modi. With the slogan “Modi go back”, party workers took to the streets and an atmosphere was created that if Modi came for the meeting, there would be a violent protest against him. To avoid a confrontation, Modi had to postpone his Guntur tour. Finally, on February 10 that year, Modi was able to hold a rally in Guntur. But Naidu’s personal attack against Modi and pouring of venom continued.
What happened in the end is well-known. Once the biggest face in Andhra politics, Naidu is today fighting a never-ending battle for his existence. After the reorganization of the state in 2014, while KCR has become a major force in Telangana, Jagan Mohan Reddy holds sway in Andhra Pradesh. In both these places, the BJP is rapidly trying to consolidate its political ground, whereas Naidu has nowhere to go. The irony is that Naidu, who was spewing venom against Modi and Amit Shah during the 2018-19 Lok Sabha-assembly elections, had to thank both these leaders publicly in November 2019, when the central government named Amaravati as the capital of the state of Andhra. This had been Naidu’s dream, which Jagan was trying to put on hold.
There are many such stories. Whoever tried to harm Modi by cultivating personal enmity with him has suffered, especially those who played with his security or his life. P Chidambaram, who was once the home minister of the country, will also realise this, as he tried to implicate Modi in court cases and also to reduce his security cordon. Even Chidambaram suffered the consequences. He could not even muster the courage to contest the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and propped up his son for his seat in Sivaganga, campaigned there with full force, yet his son Karti had to face defeat. He was in fourth place in terms of the number of votes polled. Sivaganga is the constituency from where Chidambaram had won the Lok Sabha elections seven times since 1984.
Channi should learn from all these anecdotes and incidents and so should his party the Congress, which Modi has pushed into its worst phase in its 125- year-long existence. To fight with Modi, you will have to get on the ground, you will have to work hard, win the trust of the people, and, yes, conspiracies against him will not work. History is witness that whoever tried this with Modi suffered politically. Channi has to learn this lesson from history. As far as Modi is concerned, all he has to say is that as long as he has the grace of Mata Rani or Lord Bhole Shankar is with him, no one can harm him, as Modi is a devotee of both Shakti and Shiva.