By Prabhjot Singh*
In less than 10 weeks of its landslide triumph in the Assembly elections of this trouble-torn revenue deficit border State, the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is finding itself knee deep in hot waters. The reason: a highly publicized action that boomeranged on its face.
Neither the Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann nor any of the senior members of the High Command of AAP, including its Convener, Arvind Kejriwal, could visualize the serious consequences they would counter for their action of cutting down security cover of eminent personalities, including politicians, religious leaders, artists, and policemen.
The broad daylight assassination of folk singer-turned budding politician Sidhu Moosewala not only evoked worldwide condemnation but also painted the action of the first-time ruling party in the State as a cheap and unlawful gimmick.
Needless to reiterate that security is a sensitive issue that is seldom revealed in public domain.
In less than 24 hours of issuance of orders of withdrawal or reduction of security cover to over 400 eminent personalities, the State plunged into one of its worst glooms in recent years with the killing of Sidhu Moosewala who had unsuccessfully contested the Punjab Assembly elections early this year.
Intriguingly, copies of the order, though confidential and marked “secret” was made available to the entire media for “wide publicity” as “another daring step by the “Government that works for people.”
Without getting into the merits of the action or the order, the way it was publicized not only defeated its purpose but also made all those who felt aggrieved by it more “vulnerable”.
The subsequent explanation by the State police chief that order was part of an annual exercise of making available additional security personnel for deployment for “ghallughara week” duties.
The present strength of Punjab police is more than 70,000. In addition, it has some Punjab Armed Police (PAP) battalions as well as India reserve battalions. Punjab also has a couple of trained Commando battalions. Of these men in uniform, nearly 30,000 to 35,000 are deployed in 300-odd police stations and police posts in the State.
Providing security cover to individuals or institutions is a highly sensitive subject that need not be discussed in any public domain. In the past a little more than 10 weeks of assuming power in the State, the AAP government has been issuing orders from time to time in reviewing security cover of political bigwigs and others. Such reviews were also widely publicized as was the last order of May 28.
In India, there are various agencies that provide security cover to individuals and vulnerable institutions, including installations. They include those that are under direct control of the Central Government like Ministry of Home Affairs or Ministry of Defence. They assess the threat perception and accordingly provide the security cover that at times work in close coordination with the State Security Agencies depending upon the movement of the protected personalities.
In addition to the Centre, the State Governments have their own Security wings that function under a senior police officer. Though broadly, the State Security agencies follow the same pattern of assessing the threat perception before deciding the quantum of security cover in each individual case. Normally, there is a regular review of security cover with changing threat perceptions, but this practice is not followed religiously. It is in rarest of rarest cases that the State police extends its security cover to individuals who are neither Bonafede residents of the State nor have any threats emanating from within the State. There are numerous when security audits are not conducted, and even if they are done, they are only to complete the formalities.
There is no denying the fact for many, security cover is more of a “status symbol” than a necessity. The bigger or larger the security cover is used to gauge one’s political or social height.
Security experts that there is nothing like “absolute” or” foolproof” security. Their observation is corroborated by high profile assassinations taking place world over from time to time.
During my nearly 40 years stint in journalism, I reported several cases in which well protected political big wigs, policemen or others were attacked. Many of these turned out to be gruesome assassinations, while few others left their victims shattered or crippled.
Security is highly debatable subject as the State is mandated to protect life and property of its populace. However, deviating from this Constitutional mandate, the State or the people given the mandate to run the State start their own isolation on the pretext of security. Safety and security of a common man is getting greatly ignored.
Intriguingly, nearly 80 per cent of the police force in Punjab is undertrained. Studies from time to time reveal that nearly 80 per cent of the training budget of the police force is consumed by top 5 to 10 per cent of the force that generally covers up the gazetted officer’s level. Eight to 10 per cent of the training budget is spent on the NGOs, who comprise about 10-15 per cent of the total strength and for the remaining 70-75 per cent, the constabulary, gets only five to eight per cent of the training Budget. Majority of the policemen undergo mandatory training only at the time of their induction in the force and seldom afterwards. They are the “lathi” or cane wielding policemen chosen to do route marking or simple beat duties with little or no power of investigation. They are the mainstay of the “visible” security for VIP visits or mass political events. Invisible security is an area that has generally remained ignored.
There may not be a single policeman to ensure safety of hundreds of people at a busy marketplace, bus stand or railway station but a political big wig or a senior police official comes surrounded by a horde of armed guards. The strength of the horde indicates the political or official rank of the protected politician or civil servant.
* Prabhjot Singh is a veteran journalist with over three decades of experience covering a wide spectrum of subjects and stories. He has covered Punjab and Sikh affairs for more than three decades besides covering seven Olympics and several major sporting events, including eight World Cups in Hockey. He has been hosting TV shows. For more in-depth analysis and stories by him please visit probingeye.com or follow him on Twitter.com/probingeye and on Facebook @PrabhjotSingh.Journalist