The first order came on March 12 even before the new Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Punjab had taken its oath. Since then, the Bhagwant Mann-led administration has issued at least four more directives reducing the security cover of VIPs and VVIPs.
This has caused a controversy in the state, with some applauding the government for acting against “VIP culture” and others accusing it of using the optics for propaganda. The government’s critics say it is endangering the lives of the public figures whose security has been withdrawn as their names have appeared in the media. The details of such orders are supposed to be confidential and not shared in the public domain.
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The latest directive was issued on Saturday when the government partially removed the security cover of Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh. The Akal Takht leader’s name figured in a list of 424 people that went viral on social media. He had advised Sikhs a few weeks ago to keep licensed weapons as “circumstances were such”, drawing criticism from Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann.
Facing criticism, the Mann government tried to restore the Akal Takht leader’s security hours later. But he refused, saying Sikh youth and Khalsa Panth were enough for his security. The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) accused the government of being “anti-Panth” and “anti-Punjab”.
“The police stations are lying vacant and the police are guarding the houses of leaders,” Mann said earlier this month while defending his government’s decision to remove security personnel from VIP duty. “We will make the police do policing. The security of 2.75 crore people is more important than a few.”
But former AAP MLA Kanwar Sandhu recently took to Twitter to ask why the names on these lists had appeared in the media. “If any of them is attacked, will these media houses be co-accused?” he asked.
“It is political vendetta by the government,” alleged former Congress MLA and current BJP leader Fateh Jang Singh Bajwa, whose name was on the Saturday list. “I will file a contempt of court case if my security is not restored. I had been given Y-plus security. My brother had Z-plus security. What is threat perception for (AAP leader) Raghav Chadha?”
The BJP leader’s brother Partap Singh Bajwa is the Congress Legislative Party leader in the state. Following his remarks, the government restored Fateh Singh Bajwa’s security cover.
On May 11, after the security cover of SAD leader and former Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal was reduced, the party’s spokesperson Daljit Singh Cheema had tweeted, “In Punjab, first security of political leaders, former police officers, their families etc is withdrawn. Then, to claim credit, this information is flashed on TVs, newspapers, and social media without realising that it may reach their worst enemies and endanger their lives. Punjab chief minister, stop it please.”
Former Congress MLA Parminder Singh Pinki last week moved the High Court to restore his security cover after 28 of 30 personnel in his protection unit were removed. The former legislator, through his counsel, argued that the security provided to him was illegally withdrawn at the behest of politically vested interests, without providing him any notice, and without assessing the threat perception.
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Among the others whose security has been reduced are former Chief Minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, former minister Vijay Singla, BJP leader and former state Congress president Sunil Jakhar, and former Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal.
The AAP-led government is not the first to withdraw or reduce the security of the members of the outgoing administration. Former CM Captain Amarinder Singh had claimed to have removed 2,000 personnel deployed for VIP security in 2017 within one-and-a-half months of assuming charge. At the time, the members of the SAD had been at the receiving end of the government’s directives.