Why Opposition fails to let go of Modi hatred and see prime minister as an institution

Today, very few have the statesmanship of a Naveen Patnaik to understand the Prime Minister is an institution and not a person

Sandip Ghose January 07, 2022 17:05:20 IST
Why Opposition fails to let go of Modi hatred and see prime minister as an institution

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has skipped the rally in Punjab’s Ferozepur over security lapses, a statement by the Ministry of Home Affairs said. News18

The security of the head of any country’s government should be above partisan politics. But, when it comes to Narendra Modi everything is viewed through a political prism. So, it could not be different for the security breach on 5 January 2021, when he was en route to the Hussainiwala National Martyrs Memorial, near Ferozepur, Punjab. The jury remains divided on whether the fault lies in Modi’s personality or the intense animosity his opponents and detractors harbour against him.

However, this was not about Narendra Modi but the prime minister of the country. Hence, if the circumstances surrounding the grounding of the prime minister’s cavalcade are intriguing, the reactions that followed are curious, to say the least. While some may consider the response of the BJP and supporters over the top, those from the other end of the spectrum range from cynical to crass. In the polarised times that we live in, the former has been crying hoarse about a conspiracy, while the latter are bent on trivialising the incident.

Much water has flown down the Beas and Sutlej since the incident. Details that have emerged subsequently establish glaring gaps in coordination, deviations from protocol and flawed response. As per the rule book, it is a settled fact that the SPG is responsible for security in close proximity to the VVIP. Law and order being a state subject, the task of providing safe passage lies in the domain of the state government.

Last-minute changes in VVIP itineraries are common. Contingency plans with an alternative route or travel options are part of routine operating procedures (SOP). So, that by itself cannot be an excuse for lack of preparedness either on the part of Punjab Police or the Prime Minister’s security apparatus (SPG). This cannot be papered over as a mere communication disconnect — as the latest revelations tend to corroborate.

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Footage from videos that have surfaced are incriminating. The DGP and other senior officers tactically missing in action. The DIG Ferozepur Range reached the scene barely 15 minutes before the prime minister’s cavalcade arrived.

The BJP has accused the Punjab government of connivance. Without going thus far, whether it was a deliberate dereliction of duty or professional callousness — that it had the potential of blowing up as a tragedy of humongous proportions cannot be denied. It has been reported that the police were in favour of “using force” but were advised to exercise restraint by the political bosses. In a separate statement, Punjab chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi had also said that he could not have authorised the use of force on farmers as they had carried out their movement in a peaceful manner for over a year!

His apprehensions about a political backlash is understandable with elections around the corner. But, his subsequent statements trying to brazen out the episode, shedding any pretence of political correctness, is disturbing. The volley of charges between the state and Central governments that followed and the ensuing political slugfest has exposed chasms in the federal structure that are as serious, if not more, than the security fiasco.

Of late, one has observed a trend among some chief ministers to display defiance towards the authority of the Central government — to cock a snook at the prime minister and home minister as it were. This has been on display on various occasions — such as some chief minister’s abstaining from meetings called by the prime minister on important issues like the review of the COVID-19 situation. This may be fine as long as it is political posturing. But, one has to draw a line when it comes to the national interest. Threat to the prime minister’s security — whether perceived or real — is a case in point on which there can be no room for two opinions.

Technically, the Director-General of Police of a state has a functional reporting line to the Union home ministry. However, as we all know, in practice the DGP’s apron strings are tied to the Chief Minister’s Office. In Punjab, the appointment of the DGP has been a major bone of contention between warring factions of the ruling party. However, in other states too — notably in West Bengal and Maharashtra recently — police chiefs have been frequently subjected to loyalty tests and forced to choose sides.

So, when the Centre and a state are locked in an adversarial relationship it puts the administrative machinery under strain. This had also played out not too long ago in an instance involving the chief secretary of West Bengal, who had failed to turn up at a meeting convened by the prime minister on a visit to the state. The matter is still in court.

The issue stems from, once can argue, a large number of leaders outside the BJP and RSS fraternity view Modi as a political opponent rather than the prime minister of the country. Even after eight years of his premiership, they are unable to accept him as the rightful occupant of the Prime Minister’s office. This phenomenon is fanned by a section of the intelligentsia — or Left-liberal intellectuals as they are fashionably called — who have resented Modi’s rise since his days as the Chief Minister of Gujarat. Their animosity increased exponentially following his ascent as Prime Minister, further aggravated after his re-election in 2019, now reaching near breakpoint.

On Modi’s part, he may have erred in being the main campaigner for the BJP both at the national and state level. Being the consummate politician and charismatic leader that he is, Modi switches between the two roles, that of donning the mantle of a national icon and BJP’s mascot, effortlessly. However, his opponents lack the same felicity. So, when he comes to address a rally in a state for the chief minister, he is a political adversary who has to be stopped in his tracks.

There lies the tragedy of our times. Today, very few have the statesmanship of a Naveen Patnaik to understand the prime minister is an institution and not a person. Forgetting the difference can be costly for democracy.

The author is a current affairs commentator, marketer, blogger and leadership coach, who tweets at @SandipGhose. Views expressed are personal.

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