After Prime Minister Narendra Modi spent 20 minutes on a Punjab highway blocked by protesting farmers in a massive security breach, several questions have emerged around the “Blue Book” manual of the Special Protection Group (SPG), which exclusively protects India’s top leader.
The Prime Minister’s security on his visits to states follows the SPG’s Blue Book that lays down rules for his protection. The PM’s plan is shared in detail with the state’s top leadership including the Chief Minister, Home Minister and police chief.
The advance liaison team meets at least a month before the visit and there is a 48-hour security drill.
The SPG coordinates with the state police and other officers for a security plan and all routes are sanitised.
Yesterday, when bad weather prevented PM Modi from taking a helicopter to the site of an election rally from Bathinda, his plans were quickly changed to a two-hour drive covering a 111 km distance.
As the PM’s convoy was blocked on a flyover by protesters, he was clearly seen waiting in a black Toyota Fortuner car. After 20 minutes, PM Modi turned back and headed straight to the Bathinda airport.
As a high level probe begins, questions have been flying between rival sides:
- Did the SPG ignore the weather alerts for the area?
- Was there pressure on the SPG to accept a request by the PM to hop onto any bullet-proof vehicle and travel to the location? The Toyota Fortuner he was in is not rated for protection against IEDs or heavier calibre weapons. Why was this vehicle used and not his new Maybach, Range Rover or Land Cruiser?
- Did the state police clear the route before the PM started his road journey? Who cleared the 111-km route?
- How were civilians allowed on the route of the Prime Minister’s motorcade?
- Why did the PM’s convoy wait as long as 15-20 minutes rather than return immediately?
- Were SPG vehicles missing? Why was the PM’s vehicle easily spotted?
- Were intelligence inputs given about the protest?
The Union Home Ministry accused the Punjab police of not following the SPG rules. “As per the Blue Book, the state police has to prepare a contingency route for the protectee in case of any adverse situation like the one in Punjab during the PM’s visit,” an official told news agency ANI.
But as the BJP accuses Punjab’s ruling Congress of putting the Prime Minister in danger with “murderous intentions”, several state ministers and Congress leaders say the SPG was entirely at fault.
Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi denied any breach and pointed at the abrupt change of plans. “He is our PM. I would lay down my life to protect him, as a Punjabi,” he said to reporters, “but he was in no danger.”
Mr Channi said though travelling by road was a joint decision, the role of the state police “was limited” and everything was handled by the SPG and other central agencies.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, a veteran Congress leader, defended the Punjab government and said it was the SPG and Intelligence Bureau that should be held accountable.
“It is a serious matter if there is any lapse in the security of the Prime Minister. It is serious because the nation has lost two Prime Ministers – Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi – after which the responsibility of the PM’s entire security was given to the SPG,” Mr Gehlot was quoted as saying by PTI.
“The primary responsibility of the PM’s security lies with the SPG and the IB and the state police follows directions and advice of the SPG. Without the clearance of the SPG, the convoy of the PM cannot move,” he added, asking why the elite force allowed the PM’s convoy on a route where a protest was being held.
Top BJP leaders, including Home Minister Amit Shah and party chief JP Nadda, ripped into the Congress.
“Repeated rejections by the people have taken them on the path of insanity. The topmost echelons of the Congress owe an apology to the people of India for what they have done,” said Amit Shah.