New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s scheduled visit to Punjab’s Ferozepur was cancelled Wednesday, after protesting farmers blocked the road leading to city. In a major security breach, the PM was left stuck on a flyover “for 15-20 minutes”, the Ministry of Home Affairs has said, adding that the road had been blocked by some protesters.
Modi was scheduled to visit Ferozepur to lay the foundation stones for several development projects in the area and address the public.
The MHA has sought a report from the Punjab government on the “major lapse in the security of the Prime Minister”. According to the MHA, the schedule for the PM’s visit had been communicated to the Punjab government well in advance, but additional security to ensure his smooth movement by road “were clearly not deployed”.
Reacting to the incident, however, Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi claimed in an interview to a Punjab TV channel there had been no security breach.
“I was talking to them (farmer bodies) till 3 am yesterday. I had assured them that I would arrange for their meeting with the prime minister. All protests had been lifted by today morning and the roads were clear,” he said.
The CM also said that all arrangements were in place for the PM’s visit Wednesday, but the changed plans were “too sudden” for his government to make alternative arrangements.
‘Road was blocked by protesters’
According a statement issued by the MHA, PM Modi landed at Bathinda Wednesday morning, from where he was to go to the National Martyrs Memorial at Hussainiwala (in Ferozepur district) by helicopter. However, the plan had to be changed due to rain and poor visibility.
The statement added that the PM waited for about 20 minutes for the weather to clear, but when there was no improvement in conditions, it was decided that he would visit the National Martyrs Memorial by road — a journey of more than two hours.
“He proceeded to travel by road after necessary confirmation of necessary security arrangements by the DGP Punjab Police,” the statement said.
Around 30 km away from the National Martyrs Memorial in Hussainiwala, when the Prime Minister’s convoy reached a flyover, it was found that the road had been blocked by some protesters, added the statement.
“The Prime Minister was stuck on a flyover for 15-20 minutes. This was a major lapse in the security of the Prime Minister,” the statement said.
According to the MHA statement, the prime minister’s schedule and travel plan had been communicated to the Punjab government well in advance.
“As per procedure, they have to make necessary arrangements for logistics, security as well as keep a contingency plan ready,” the statement said.
It added: “Also in view of the contingency plan the Punjab Government has to deploy additional security to secure any movement by road , which were clearly not deployed.”
“After this security lapse, it was decided to head back to Bathinda Airport,” the statement said.
The statement further read that “the Ministry of Home Affairs taking cognisance of this serious security lapse has sought a detailed report from the state government. The State Government has also been asked to fix responsibility for this lapse and take strict action”.
The buzz in Punjab
Sources in the Punjab government told ThePrint that most of the journey had been completed and the Prime Minister was only 30 km away from the venue, when his convoy had to stop because of a group of farmers sitting on dharna on the Ferozepur-Bathinda Road.
“We have learnt that a handful of protesters started running along the Prime Minister’s vehicle on a bridge shouting slogans due to which the cavalcade had to be first slowed down and later come to a complete halt,” said a source.
“The situation became especially tense because there was also a possibility that another dharna would be put up by farmers on the other end of the bridge and the convoy would be trapped on the bridge itself, and not be able to turn back,” the source added.
Roadblocks by farmers were also reported from Zira road, Fazilka road, Moga road, Muktsar road and Kotkapura in the state. Many of these roadblocks were to stop BJP members and supporters from attending the PM’s event at Ferozepur.
At least nine farmers unions had reportedly said Tuesday that they would be disrupting PM Modi’s Ferozepur visit. Led by the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee (KSMC), these unions are demanding an ex-gratia payment of Rs 1 crore to families of farmers who died during the agitation against the Modi government’s now-repealed farm laws. Other demands include withdrawal of cases against the protesting farmers, release of arrested farmers and the removal of Union Minister of State for Home Ajay Mishra ‘Teni’ for his alleged role in the Lakhimpur Kheri incident.
Talking to mediapersons after the PM’s return, Sarwan Singh Pandher, general secretary of the KSMC, claimed the BJP had decided that the Prime Minister should not come to the event because there were not enough people gathered at the venue. “This could be because of heavy rain in the morning and also following our appeals to the people of Punjab to not attend the rally,” said Pandher.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)