Punjab Govt tells HC security of 424 to be restored from June 7, Opposition claims ‘admission of grave lapse’.
On the defensive since Sidhu Moosewala’s murder on May 29, the Punjab government on Thursday told the High Court of Punjab and Haryana that from June 7 it would restore the security of 424 VIPs whose protection detail was either withdrawn or trimmed the day before the singer’s death. The Opposition pounced on this, claiming that it was the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)-led administration’s “admission of grave lapse” and demanded that Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann take “moral responsibility” and give up the Home portfolio. Either the ruling party or the government was lying, an Opposition leader added.
The AAP-led government issued its first order removing security personnel from VIP duty on March 12, even before it took oath. Subsequently, it issued more such orders, drawing praise from some for acting against VIP culture. Last month, Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann even defended his government’s move, saying, “We will make the police do policing. The security of 2.75 crore people is more important than a few.”
On May 26, three days before Moosewala’s death, the singer’s police cover was halved from four to two personnel. The day before the murder, the government ordered either the withdrawal or pruning of the protection detail of the 424 VIPs. The list went viral on social media. This and other instances of names in such orders becoming public led Opposition leaders to question the Bhagwant Mann-led administration, pointing out that it was putting lives at risk.
The government on Thursday told the court that the security covers of the 424 VIPs would be restored after Ghallughara Diwas on June 6, which is observed as a day of protest against Operation Blue Star. Although the orders mentioned that the “security personnel were being withdrawn on a purely temporary basis, in connection with emergent law and order duty”, the government got cornered after Moosewala’s death. On Tuesday, the High Court, while hearing former Deputy Chief Minister and Congress leader Om Prakash Soni’s plea against his security downgrade, had asked the government to submit a report explaining the basis on which the security threat of a protectee is assessed and how a report of security withdrawal had come into the public domain.
Referring to the plaudits that the government initially received for the orders issued, a Congress leader said on Thursday, “But this time they stretched it too far. They appeared to have not cared for the threat perception. And also, they wanted to earn brownie points by handing the list to the media. And the result was in front of them.”
Punjab Congress president Amrinder Singh Raja Warring said, “The decision to restore the security of all those protectees, whose security it had withdrawn earlier, is an admission of grave lapse and negligence that cost the precious and promising life of Moosewala for which Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann must own moral responsibility and apologise to his parents.”
He added, “The Punjab government in general, and the Chief Minister in particular, owes an explanation to the people of Punjab as to why the security was withdrawn at the first instance and when it was withdrawn, why was it restored. That means something was amiss somewhere.”
Warring asked if Mann would take “moral responsibility for the grave lapse”, pointing out that the CM “is also the Home Minister”. He added, “This populist show cost Punjab a precious and promising cultural icon and an upcoming leader.”
The state Congress chief said the government’s claim that the order withdrawing or pruning VIPs’ security was issued on account of Ghallughara Diwas did not hold any ground. He claimed that Punjab Police personnel part of the security detail of AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal and party MP Raghav Chadha were intact.
Leader of the Opposition Partap Singh Bajwa of the Congress said, “I welcome the decision of Honourable Punjab and Haryana High Court to restore back security of all 424 individuals. It’s high time that CM Bhagwant Mann relinquishes charge as Home Minister and gives it to someone more competent and professional.”
AAP advertised – security withdrawn to end VIP culture but today Punjab Govt stated in court – security personnel were temporarily needed for operation Bluestar anniversary.
— Sunil Jakhar (@sunilkjakhar) June 2, 2022
Congress-turned-BJP leader Sunil Jakhar also questioned the government’s statement to the court. He tweeted, “Who’s lying? @BhagwantMann ji @AamAadmiParty or the Govt of #Punjab? AAP advertised — security withdrawn to end VIP culture but today Punjab Govt stated in court — security personnel were temporarily needed for operation Bluestar anniversary. Blatant Hypocrisy @ArvindKejriwal.”