Soon after the dangerous breach in the Prime Minister’s security during an aborted visit to Bhatinda, Punjab, on January 5, 2022, a morphed video of a cabinet committee meeting of December 9, 2021 (after the tragic demise of CDS Gen. Bipin Rawat) suddenly popped up on WhatsApp groups all over the country. The video was given a new voiceover, with blatantly anti-Sikh dialogues.
The cognoscenti were quick to realise that the video was fake, but how to gauge the impact in the privacy of every home, every village, especially in Punjab?
The objective was to instigate communal sentiments and have Hindus ejected from the Punjab countryside, a chilling replay of the events leading to the Army action in Amritsar and the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in October 1984.
The banned organisation, Sikhs for Justice, was overjoyed when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was stranded on a flyover for over 20 minutes, which suggests that an external angle in the episode cannot be ruled out. Videos erupted simultaneously on all WhatsApp groups nationwide, where SFJ leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun made threats against the Prime Minister. At the same time, animated videos on Twitter showed violence against Mr. Modi.
Delhi Police has now said that the “cabinet meeting” video originated from Pakistan, which is unsurprising. The video was popularized through 46 Twitter accounts, mainly @eshalkaur1 and @simrankaur0507 that were created between October and December 2021, and operated from a single browser (developed by multilogin.com) from Pakistan. The video became viral nationwide, aided by hidden influencers in prominent WhatsApp groups, and this network needs to be unravelled.
The Government of India acted with commendable restraint. The Union Home Ministry sought an explanation from the Punjab Director General of Police and ordered an inquiry, even as the Punjab government set up its own committee. This irked the Centre as the Punjab committee included the State Home Secretary; the Centre said the officer is likely to be investigated and should not be in the Committee.
Thereafter, a Supreme Court Bench headed by the Chief Justice of India ordered that the District Judge Bhatinda will collect all records regarding the Prime Minister’s security arrangements from the Punjab Police, State of Punjab, SPG and other Central and State agencies; these will be preserved by the Registrar General of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, assisted by an officer of the National Investigation Agency.
Thereafter, on January 8, the Election Commission of India announced the schedule for elections to the Punjab and four other State Assemblies. This put an end to speculation over President’s rule in Punjab which could have increased political temperatures in the State.
On January 9, the birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced December 26 as Veer Bal Diwas to commemorate the sacrifices of the sons of Guru Gobind Singh, two of whom were buried alive in a brick wall on that day. Recalling the bravery and ideals of Mata Gujri Ji, Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji and the four Sahibzades, two of whom died in battle, the Prime Minister said, “They never bowed to injustice. They envisioned a world that is inclusive and harmonious”.
Meanwhile, several questions arise regarding the serious breach of security that led to the Prime Minister being stranded on a flyover for over 20 minutes, close to the international border. Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi, Punjab Chief Secretary and the DGP were all absent when Mr. Modi landed in Bhatinda, a glaring lapse of protocol for which no convincing explanation has been given till date. When inclement weather ruled out taking a helicopter to the martyr’s memorial at Hussainiwala, the Chief Minister was unavailable by telephone and the Director General of Police gave the green signal to travel by road.
However, the warning car ahead of the cavalcade was not warned by local police who were seen on video clips enjoying tea with persons blocking the flyover, with the result that the Prime Minister was stranded on the flyover and put in a very vulnerable position. The Congress party shamed the nation with its brazen attitude, but former MP Sunil Jakhar lamented the episode as a blot on the State, while former Union Minister Manish Tiwari pointed to the proximity to the border to underline the gravity of the matter.
Chief Minister Channi claimed he did not receive the Prime Minister because of Covid exposure, but did not isolate himself as per Covid protocol. Instead, he was soon seen moving around freely, without a face mask, and adding to his ignominy with contradictory statements. He also said the farmers wanted to meet the Prime Minister and he had promised to help them!
The Punjab Police cannot evade censure as it was its responsibility to ensure that the Prime Minister’s back-up route by road was sanitised and kept free of obstructions, regardless of what route the Prime Minister eventually took. In the current case, farmers have reported to the media that the police told them the Prime Minister was coming on that road; however they didn’t believe them and stayed put. No attempts were made to take the farmers off the road, or to inform the SPG about the blockade. This is a gross dereliction of duty.
Far from feeling embarrassed, Congress party acolytes released a barrage of frivolous commentary to the effect that the Prime Minister left in a huff because he received reports that his proposed rally was a flop due to poor attendance. The local Bharatiya Janata Party countered with video clips showing that their cadres were detained at various spots by the Punjab Police. Later, former Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, who has formed an alliance with the BJP, addressed a well-attended rally that called the bluff of the Congress party.
The PM security breach took on a more serious dimension on Monday (January 10) morning as several Supreme Court advocates received two threatening calls from Sikhs For Justice, with a pre-recorded message claiming responsibility for the lapse in Mr. Modi’s security in Punjab on January 5, 2022. The calls seem to have come from the United Kingdom.
SFJ warned the Supreme Court Justices against hearing a plea for an independent probe into the security breach, alleging that the apex court “never took any action” to provide justice to the victims of the anti-Sikh riots of 1984.
The Supreme Court agreed to set up a committee headed by a retired apex court judge to probe the security breach. At the time of writing, the Court indicated that DGP Chandigarh, IG National Investigation Agency, and ADGP (security) of Punjab might be included in the committee. However, the committees appointed by the Punjab government and the Union Home Ministry were suspended.
Chintan India Foundation blog, January 11, 2022