PM’s security breach: SPG’s unpardonable lapse

Don’t look at the serious lapse in PM’s security through political prism.

The whole nation is shocked to see how Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s security was breached in Punjab and the entire country wants to know who is responsible for this serious lapse? Punjab police is in the dock. The biggest question is, what were the SPG, i.e. Special Protection Group, and Intelligence Bureau doing? These security agencies are responsible for the security of the Prime Minister.

Firstly, let’s understand what SPG is and how it works. After the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984, it was thought to establish a world-class trained military security force to ensure security of the Prime Minister and his/her family. The SPG was established in June 1988 under a Special Act of Parliament. The SPG is responsible for the security of the Prime Minister and his family members. The SPG consists of highly qualified personnel and officers selected from the police and paramilitary forces. They have to undergo the same kind of training which is given to the ‘United States Secret Service agents’ posted for the security of the US President. The SPG is equipped with sophisticated weapons and state-of-the-art communication tools. After the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in Sriperumbudur in 1991 in Tamil Nadu, the government amended the rules to provide SPG protection to former prime ministers and their family members as well. In 2019, the SPG Act was amended, under which a provision was made to give SPG protection to former prime ministers and their family members up to five years after they step down from office. After this, in August 2019, the SPG security cover of former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh was withdrawn, and in the month of November the same year, the cover of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, her son Rahul Gandhi and daughter Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was withdrawn too. Let me tell you that even the President does not get the SPG security cover.

For the security of the Prime Minister, the SPG has its own separate code of conduct, which is called ‘Blue Book’. The job of the SPG is not only to provide security to the Prime Minister but also to sense every security threat. After analysing the intelligence inputs, decisions have to be taken accordingly. Whenever the Prime Minister is about to go somewhere, the SPG not only takes stock of the security at that place in advance but also takes over that place at the time of travel. Thus, the SPG is directly involved in the PM’s security. SPG’s ‘Blue Book’ lays down security guidelines for the protection of the Prime Minister. In case of any obstruction, there is also a contingency route for the protectee. Along with SPG, intelligence officers remain in close proximity to the PM gathering intelligence and analysing the situation. If they sense any untoward incident, the movement of VVIPs is changed accordingly.

The question that bothers me is how did the route of the Prime Minister’s travel change suddenly? Was the security beefed up by the SPG and the Intelligence Bureau before allowing road travel of about 122 km? It is reported that the DGP of Punjab had clearly said that he needs at least an hour to sanitize the travel route of the Prime Minister. The question is, did the SPG, after discussing with the Intelligence Bureau, ensure that the PM’s road route is safe and security put in place on the road? The farmers had already announced the agitation. Despite this, how come the travel route of the PM was given the green signal. The biggest responsibility for this rests with the SPG.

We do compare the SPG to the US Secret Service, but are the rules followed strictly? Being a member of Parliament, I have had the opportunity to closely observe and study the security arrangements of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama in the Parliament complex during their visit to India as US President. I also saw how they had taken Delhi under their security cover. The Secret Service agents had taken the entire Parliament under their protection. More than a hundred trained sniffer dogs from America came by special aircraft for the protection of the US President. These dogs were allotted rooms in five star hotels according to their rank. Among them, some dogs were given the rank of general, colonel and some had the status of major. Wherever the US President goes, the US Secret Service strengthens his security system. During Barack Obama’s visit to Mumbai, the then Mumbai police commissioner Sanjeev Dayal had assured the US security officials that Mumbai police would take care of the security arrangements of the area where Obama would go, but the US secret agents refused and a dispute arose on this issue. But US secret agents refused their offer. Be it President Putin of Russia, President Xi Jinping of China or heads of State of France, Britain or other countries, their security personnel do not take any chances. They follow their leaders like a shadow.

India has paid a high price with the death of two former prime ministers for lapses in security. We all know how we lost the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her son and young former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi because of the serious lapses in the security system. At that time, a senior IB officer was repeatedly urging for cancellation of Rajivji’s visit to Sriperumbudur, but Rajivji did not agree. Rajivji was not the Prime Minister at that time. He did not get the protective cover of SPG. The Intelligence Bureau was repeatedly urging top government officials to cancel Rajivji’s visit as it had authentic information about the possibility of an attack on him. Unfortunately, the top officials of the Central government expressed their helplessness and said they do not have the right to give SPG security to the former prime minister. Ultimately, the country lost Rajivji as he was killed in the suicide attack by LTTE guerrillas of Sri Lanka in Sriperumbudur. Along with him, an IB officer also lost his life.

Punjab is a very sensitive state in terms of security of the country’s borders and the air distance of the Pakistan border is just 10 km from the flyover on which Prime Minister Modi was stranded. There could also have been a threat of a hi-tech terrorist attack on the PM. Pakistan keeps dropping weapons and drugs in that area via drones. Even tiffin bombs have been found continuously in that area.

Hence the whole issue should be looked at holistically and without any political bias. What message have the BJP leaders tried to convey by chanting Mahamrityunjaya mantra all over the country? I believe that instead of chanting Mahamrityunjaya mantra, one should think about where and how did Modiji’s security system go wrong? What is needed here is that security agencies should learn a lesson and ensure that there is no lapse in the security of the PM in future. For context, I would like to remind you that the Prime Minister was stuck in traffic twice in Gautam Buddha Nagar in 2017 and in 2018. The question is why does this happen? Whatever party the Prime Minister may belong to, he is the pride of the entire nation. There can be no compromise with his security.

The author is the chairman, Editorial Board of Lokmat Media and former member of Rajya Sabha.

Whichever political party the Prime Minister may belong to, he is the leader of the country. Even the slightest lapse in his security cannot be tolerated. We have suffered the pain of losing a prime minister and a former prime minister because of such security lapses. It is not right to look at the security breach through the prism of politics. Lessons need to be learned so that they are not repeated in future