The alleged security lapse in Punjab must be investigated, but this is not the first incident of a breach in the security protocol of the Prime Minister. Former SPG officials say that only Narendra Modi takes the final decision and often shows his thumb to the fixed programs of security.
New Delhi: The matter of alleged lapse in the security of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Punjab is now in the Supreme Court. There is an ongoing tussle between the Central Government and the State Government of Punjab regarding this.
Meanwhile, many in the security establishment wonder why other earlier breaches of the prime minister’s security protocols—many of which pertain to the current prime minister—have not attracted political or media attention.
Former officials of the Special Protection Group (SPG) say that the final decision is taken by Narendra Modi and he often gives a thumbs up to the fixed programs of security.
As an example of this, there is an incident equally mentioned by everyone, when he insisted on flying a single engine seaplane with a foreign pilot. That pilot did not have the mandatory safety clearance. The Blue Book of SPG does not allow this in any way.
The Prime Minister decided to go by sea-plane from the Sabarmati River Front to Dharoi Dam in Mehsana district after the roadshow was not allowed during the 2017 Gujarat Assembly elections. At that time and even after that, retired and serving officers had no answer as to how and why Modi was allowed to fly in a single engine plane.
But after fixing the responsibility after the seaplane episode, no one lost his job. A former Union Home Secretary cites the reason as saying that this is because ‘the violation of the Blue Book usually happens at the behest of VVIPs and it happens every month. These violations are brought before the Prime Minister’s Office and the Prime Minister by the SPG and the matter ends here.
The SPG’s Security Geeta – named after the cobalt blue color of its binding, is a 200-page enclosure book containing a collection of instructions with the tiniest details of the country’s prime minister’s security.
A new draft of this book, which was last revised 18 years ago, is lying with the Home Ministry for approval. The Blue Book, revised with the changing times, will also include changes in the security of the Prime Minister after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.
There have been many such occasions when the SPG has had to bow down to the insistence of the Prime Minister. During a foreign tour in the very first year of his term- the wire Not disclosing the name of that country to keep the source safe – Modi wanted to stop his convoy and meet the gathered crowd. But intelligence agencies had received inputs that an attempt to assassinate the prime minister could be made from very close range and according to them the threat was quite ‘clear and present’.
When Modi expressed his desire to move out, the party traveling in the prime minister’s car insisted on consulting the SPG chief who was in the car behind. The directions of the SPG chief were clear: Under no circumstances should the convoy be stopped anywhere other than the designated place.
If this order is violated, that officer will be dismissed on the spot for violating the government order. The convoy moved forward. Later the SPG chief had to bear the brunt of this.
It is not the SPG alone that has been forced to refuse to accept Modi’s demands. During his 2015 visit to Germany, Modi insisted on going to the Berlin railway station. He said that he wanted to study the working of a modern rail terminal.
Germany’s security expressed its inability to accede to the request, given the sheer number of people arriving at the railway station and its public nature, saying it would be impossible for them to sanitize such a place. Despite this, the Prime Minister took his own course and went there and agreed. It was very challenging for SPG.
Security officials also say that the Prime Minister’s habit of changing the pre-determined program of security has also been a victim of foreign heads many times.
In 2017, Japanese security agencies were taken aback when they were told that their Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would have to travel in an open jeep with Modi during his visit to the Sabarmati Ashram in Gujarat.
Eventually the Japanese side had to approve it and Abe traveled with Modi in an open gypsy adorned with garlands of marigolds. By getting photographed in Indian clothes, the Japanese Prime Minister also gave the desired result to this program.
But even during the tenure of Modi’s predecessors, there were many occasions when there was a lapse in his security arrangements.
In 2012, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Advanced Security Liaison was leaked ahead of his visit to Thailand because the message was sent over an unsecured line.
This security lapse was brought to light by NTRO during cyber audit of SPG. This reporter has seen the letter written by NTRO to SPG.
Blue book will be ignored in Punjab investigation
Experts say that although the Prime Minister’s motor convoy has been stopped in the past – in Noida and Delhi – and at that time there was not much uproar over the threat to his life, yet a proper investigation into the incident in Punjab can be done to bridge the systemic loopholes. It is necessary for this, so that it can be ensured that such incident is not repeated again anywhere in the country.
Former CIC DP Sinha, who has been involved in advance security liaison meetings across the country as an Intelligence Bureau officer over the past three decades, says, “Everything is clearly written in the blue book. And even if these have been violated, accountability needs to be fixed as per the Blue Book. Especially when it comes to the Prime Minister, nothing can be left to luck.
But there is much more in the Blue Book, which needs to be answered by the Central and State Governments.
For example, according to the Advance Security Liaison (ASL), was the input not taken from the Meteorological Department regarding the possibility of rain? If the weather got so bad that it was not possible to go to the venue by helicopter, was the emergency route not decided as per ASL? Was this the emergency route used by the Prime Minister?
Did the SPG really allow the Prime Minister to travel for two hours on an unsanitized route without security clearance? According to the Blue Book, the SPG does not proceed until the concerned State Police gives the green signal to sanitize the entire route.
In the Supreme Court, Solicitor Journal Tushar Mehta tried to blame the state government for the security lapse. Mehta said, “Whenever the Prime Minister’s convoy moves on the road, the state DG is consulted and only with his permission the convoy moves forward.”
He said, the DG flagged off and did not tell about the closure of the road anywhere. If so, then the DG will have to answer. As well as the officers subordinate to him who will be responsible for different parts of the route.
But the Prime Minister’s convoy also has a warning car and a pilot car. Did the first car not see the crowd and not immediately pass this message to the person concerned? Then why did the convoy go so close to the road closure site from where the traffic jam caused by the protesters was clearly visible.
If the SPG saw the danger there, instead of waiting for 20 minutes, why didn’t the SPG immediately take a U-turn so that some distance could be created between the traffic jam ahead and the convoy.
Mehta admitted in the court that the warning car was 500-700 meters ahead of the convoy, but did not tell the court whether the convoy was alerted by the pilot.
Instead he said that ‘the motor convoy came to know about it only after it came to the flyover; He then accused the policemen waiting there, who he said were busy enjoying tea: ‘They didn’t alert the warning car about the road closure!’
It is also not clear why such a large number of civilians gathered on the other side of the road earmarked for the convoy. On the four-lane highway with dividers, only the road on one side of the divider was closed for traffic, while on the other side there were motorists and BJP flag bearers raising slogans.
A former intelligence officer says, “The traffic on the other side is allowed keeping in mind the threat assessment, the proximity to the border and the density of the traffic. What decision was taken in this regard, it will be known only from the ASL, but in general the roads on both sides in the border state should be closed. Here it seems that the one-way road was kept open for the BJP supporters to reach the prime minister’s scheduled rally.
But when the Prime Minister’s convoy took a U-turn and started moving in the wrong direction of the road, traffic on that route should have been stopped immediately until the convoy reached the right track. Experts say, ‘This whole matter is unprecedented.’
(The author is a senior journalist.)
(Click here to read this report in English.)
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