modi convoy punjab
Securitymen guard the convoy of India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi on a bridge in Punjab on Wednesday. Image Credit: Twitter / ANI

Just that uneasy, squirmish feeling.

Those images of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stuck on a flyover in Punjab’s Ferozepur district, while on his way to an election rally last Wednesday, rekindled the same uneasy, squirmish feeling that I had while visiting a New Delhi museum decades ago.

If you happen to visit Indira Gandhi Memorial in New Delhi, a trip down memory lane involving six decades of the life and times of former Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi, will finally bring you to the room where the remains of the personal belongings of another former Indian PM, Indira’s son Rajiv Gandhi, are showcased as exhibits.

The pair of tattered sneakers and Rajiv’s kurta-pajama blown into smithereens by a suicide bomber’s dastardly act in 1991 are bound to send a chill down your spine. Earlier, in 1984, the then PM Indira, too, had met with a gory end, gunned down by her own bodyguards in the outer precincts of her official residence on 1, Safdarjung Road in the capital.

Horrific, unfortunate and painful

In more ways than one, Indira Gandhi Memorial is a stark reminder of two deaths – the most horrific, unfortunate and painful instances of gargantuan breaches in VVIP security in post-independence India, apart from, of course, the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.

Modi’s black Toyota Land Cruiser stuck on that flyover near Piareana village on the Moga-Ferozepur highway due to a road blockade by a group of protesting farmers was as much unfortunate as it was worrisome.

Those Special Protection Group (SPG) ‘men in black’, standing around the PM’s vehicle and trying to check on the situation lying ahead on a rain-soaked afternoon was one extremely avoidable scenario — more so, for a country that had seen one sitting and one former PM’s lives cut short due to unpardonable breaches in security protocols.

A rudimentary bit of truth

What is even more unfortunate is the unsavoury political debate and the point-counterpoint that has unfolded since last Wednesday’s incident.

Sheer common sense and an objective analysis of the incident bring us to this very rudimentary bit of truth and that is: A prime minister or for that matter any VVIP’s security should always be kept well and truly beyond the ambit of petty politics.

Secondly, while inquiries are still on, there is still no denying the fact that in an Indian context, when a sitting PM or president is visiting a state outside the national capital region, it is incumbent upon the state administration concerned to ensure a fool-proof security cover — in close coordination with the federal agencies. This is one area where, prima facie, the buck stops at the Punjab state administration’s doorstep.

The Modi security breach highlights two very important aspects of VVIP security in India. On the one hand is the issue of security detailing and its logistical wherewithal. On the other hand lies the question of circumstantial propriety, wherein, sometimes, the VVIP in question and his or her socio-political commitments can turn out to be deterrents in ensuring a fool-proof cover.

The moot point

The moot point here is that the world’s largest democracy cannot certainly afford a point-counterpoint on its prime minister’s security. Nor can it afford to let political considerations decide the blue print for VVIP movements. In Modi’s case, it is practically impossible that the local administration in Ferozepur had no inkling about protesting farmers creating a blockade right on the PM’s travel route.

And that being the case, the question obviously arises whether such information was shared with the Advance Security Liaison (ASL) team. Moreover, if the local administration indeed knew that there was a protest-blockade on the PM’s route, why wasn’t an alternative route offered well in advance?

The very fact that the PM’s convoy was allowed to drive right up to the point where there was a road blockade was in itself a huge security breach – one that demands accountability to be fixed and exemplary punitive measures handed out.

India has lost one sitting and a former PM to massive security lapses and to the opacity of political compulsions. It certainly can’t afford to allow history to repeat itself.

Twitter: @moumiayush