If even half of what has been reported in the media is accurate, the recent incident at the Prime Minister’s public meeting in West Bengal is truly appalling, amid allegations in certain quarters that “security protocols were not followed by the state government” (which of course the West Bengal government has denied). But the issue certainly calls for a much deeper probe, analysis and urgent remedial action to ensure peace and avoidance of any bloodbath in future.
Consider the facts. The Prime Minister was in West Bengal to address a political rally on July 16. It was the primary duty and responsibility of the host state’s district administration, including the district magistrate and the senior superintendent of police, to ensure that the Prime Minister’s function was held smoothly, irrespective of the political party he represents. It has to be understood by the entire nation, including politicians and ordinary citizens, that whereas the polity can be divisive in a liberal democracy like India’s, the security of the President, vice-president, Prime Minister, governors, chief ministers and others is indivisible. For that matter, the security of ordinary Indians too is non-negotiable for the sake of divisive politics and brownie points on election-eve by all political parties. That is uncalled for, and avoidable.
To understand the potential seriousness of such lapse, it matters little for any administration in case of an occurrence of an avoidable post-situation scenario. No one will either excuse or accept whether it was due to bona fide or mala fide reasons. A case in point is the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on Wednesday, October 31, 1984. Despite the reported advisory pertaining to the redeployment of security paraphernalia by her officers several times, post-assassination, each and every high-profile official had to be sacked — from the Intelligence Bureau director to the security adviser to the Prime Minister to the top brass of the Delhi police and others.
However, that was one part of the sordid “security lapse” saga pertaining to the “high threat target” of the then Prime Minister in 1984. After more than three decades, the present Prime Minister too is reportedly a “high threat target” of those inimical to our democracy. That is no top state secret as it has been widely covered by the media just a fortnight ago. What could be a bigger problem is if a security lapse takes place despite the advance warning.
Indeed, one shudders to contemplate the aftermath of an eventuality like that of 1984. Remember what happened in the aftermath of the Prime Minister’s assassination. Frenzied mobs, led by equally frenzied gang leaders, massacred over 5,000 Sikhs in India’s capital as an act of retaliation. And that is a bad omen. While assassination for political reasons is not limited only to South Asia in the 20th century, what is ominous is the potential post-assassination mob violence and ethnic targeting trend set in 1984.
When Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was shot dead on Friday, January 30, 1948, India was already too dazed by the preceding Partition and the consequential bloodshed to go in for any fresh violence. However, had the assassin been a non-Hindu, especially so soon after the birth of Pakistan, things definitely could have gone nastier and uglier.
Sanjay Gandhi’s death on Monday, June 23, 1980 in a plane crash did not have any scope for public reaction because no one really knew the actual reason for his death while piloting a small plane. Moreover, there is a huge difference between an incumbent Prime Minister’s assassination and the son of a Prime Minister dying in an accident. The public psyche and perception differs.
Again, when Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on Tuesday, May 21, 1991, people initially could not identify the culprit as such. It was confusion par excellence. Had Rajiv Gandhi been assassinated while he was in office, or in circumstances like his mother, there might have been a much bigger and more violent backlash.
Here lies the crux of the problem. And few would know this better than the incumbent West Bengal chief minister because she has seen things deteriorate in her own state with her own eyes; having experienced things from the wrong end of the stick of the state herself. A few cases would suffice to make my point.
- Tuesday, March 17, 1970, during the Ajoy Mukherjee-led non-Congress United Front government of West Bengal, took place the first dastardly crime in broad daylight in Burdwan when the two Sain bothers were butchered and their mother compelled to drink her son’s blood in front of a murderous mob, led by the ruling party leaders of West Bengal and passively observed by the spineless serving DM and SP on the spot. Subsequently the same DM became chief secretary of West Bengal. No one was known to have been punished.
- Again, on Sunday March 18, 1984, Vinod Mehta, IPS, was cut into more than 100 pieces by another fanatic mob in the Kolkata Port area under CPI(M) chief minister Jyoti Basu’s stewardship. The mastermind of this gory tale was a serving minister of the Jyoti Basu government who could never be touched as he was a vote-catching master of his religious group. No one was ever reported to have been punished.
- On Thursday August 16, 1990, Mamata Banerjee herself faced a murderous assault by two ruling party CPI(M) organisers Lallu Alam and Badshah Alam within 1 km of her residence at Kolkata’s crowded Hazra Park and spent several months in hospital owing to life-threatening brain damage.
I referred to these incidents to draw the attention of the ruling class of democratic India irrespective of the political party in power across states and at the Centre. The Opposition is not an enemy like those across our borders, where soldiers have no choice but to kill or get killed in certain situations. I visualise bloodshed in case a top VVIP is assassinated by anyone. The ethnic group of the assassin, like in 1984, is likely to be the target, and bear the brunt with loot of their property and loss of lives, as there is no dearth of non-political mischief-makers in the country. The writing on the wall should be seen and read by one and all.
I also have an unsolicited advisory for our incumbent Prime Minister: The days are bad. Please follow security drill set by the SPG, IB and other agencies. We don’t want any civil war-type bloodshed. With elections nearing, no high-profile VIP, whether on the ruling or Opposition side, should be a victim like in 1948, 1984 or 1991. The nation has already paid a heavy price for its past lapses. We certainly can’t afford to shed any more blood. Coordination between the Central and state governments is vital for the survival of Indian democracy. The political Opposition per se is not a security threat to the nation, but an attempted assassination is.