VIP security during election season will require proper training, equipment and coordination

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Punjab police were still licking their wounds following allegations that they failed to provide adequate security to Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his election visit to the state, when they were informed of a bomb threat near Amritsar.

The Special Task Force was alerted on January 14 that an improvised explosive device (IED) was about to detonate in the area of ​​Attari market, just two kilometers from the border with Pakistan. The troops were alerted; a bomb squad rushed to the scene and disabled the 5 kg device. The IED contained 2.7 kg of explosives, 1.3 kg of iron balls, two iron containers, three electric detonators, a timer switch and seven batteries.

As the country enters a new election season, security agencies are concerned about ensuring the safety of not just VIPs, but the common man as well, as new threats continue to emerge. Punjab goes to the polls on February 20, while elections are also held in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa.

BJP National General Secretary Tarun Chugh has called on the Punjab government to issue a white paper on border security in view of the serious security threats ahead of the assembly polls. He said the congressional government was trying to shove its shortcomings “under the rug” and “playing with national security in the border state.”

The alarm triggered by the Prime Minister’s security breach might have given politicians a stick to fight, but rogue drones from Pakistan with guns, grenades and IEDs masked as tiffin boxes make life difficult for the security forces.

“The challenge is not only to secure VIPs traveling during election season, but also to deal with the multiple threats to convoy movements, crowds and gatherings,” said a senior police official in the Punjab.

Sticky bombs are the latest IED threats. Magnetically Attached IEDs (MAIEDs) or sticky bombs have been used by the Taliban in Afghanistan to carry out targeted strikes by attaching them to vehicles. “Most of these IEDs are sophisticated in nature and indicate the role of state or quasi-state entities,” said MA Ganapathy, director general of the National Security Guards (NSG), in an exclusive interview with THE WEEK.

At least 16 IEDs have been recovered by security forces in the Punjab and Jammu areas in recent months. Most of them are planted in tiffin boxes with magnets that can stick to targets and cause maximum damage. These IEDs are assembled across the border – dropped by air in many cases – and even made it to a court complex in Ludhiana, where one was detonated on December 23.

Another device was found and defused by the NSG in Delhi’s Ghazipur flower market on the same day the Attari bomb was discovered. In Delhi, the IED was on a timer, but the NSG bomb disposal team wasted no time in disabling it. However, the sophistication of the device was remarkable, with little chance of failure. So far, the NSG has found no link between MAIEDs used in Afghanistan and sticky bombs smuggled into Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab.

At least four central forces – the Special Protection Group (SPG), the NSG, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) – have been deployed to provide round-the-clock protection. 24 to VIPs. These forces also liaise with state police whenever necessary.

While the SPG’s mandate is to provide proximity security to the Prime Minister, organizations like the NSG have a much broader mandate, providing security to former Prime Ministers, former Chief Ministers and other leaders facing difficult challenges. serious threats. The detail of protection by NSG Black Cat commandos, who shot down Pakistani terrorists in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, has become a status symbol for VIPs. Currently, the NSG retains 11 VIPs, having pruned its roster to focus on emerging security challenges facing the country (see box).

Not much is said about the NSG demining team, which has been very active in recent months. The team flew to the air force base in Jammu last June when drones dropped explosives there. He also made regular visits to international borders in Jammu and Punjab. “There is turbulence at the international border,” an intelligence official said. “Several agencies are working to neutralize the threats.”

The NSG’s Bomb Disposal Team provides six to ten weeks regular and specialized training to batches of Black Cat commandos at its base in Manesar, near Delhi. It also gathers and analyzes data from threats around the world, such as the January 17 bombings at a major oil facility in Abu Dhabi.

“Whether it’s the VIPs or the common man, the need of the hour is to keep pace with the changing threat landscape,” said retired IPS officer DP Sinha , who was Secretary (Security) in the Cabinet Secretariat and Special Director of Intelligence. Office. “Only a few security forces do that.”

As threats have metamorphosed, VIP security challenges have also shifted from the physical realm to the technological realm, Sinha said. “There is an urgent need to develop expertise in dealing with new era threats like drone strikes, bombs and explosions triggered by cellphones,” he said.

Senior officials involved in VIP security duties said that whenever a politician with a high threat perception moved around in public, especially during election campaigns and rallies, the threat parameters multiplied. During these periods, more than the number of boots on the ground, what matters is adequate training, adequate equipment and flawless coordination between the various security forces. The absence of one or more of these elements can lead to incidents like the Prime Minister’s security breach.

“State governments request several companies of the central forces during elections. The emphasis is on numbers rather than expertise,” said a paramilitary officer. Often there is a lack of trust and inadequate coordination between central and state forces. This is more prevalent in opposition-run states, making the job of security agencies more difficult.

A glaring example is West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s refusal to avail himself of the security blanket provided by central agencies. While campaigning in last year’s election, she injured her foot and had to seek treatment, which she said was a “plot” against her. Yet she refused the Union Home Office’s offer of maximum possible security. It continues to be guarded by special state police commandos. “Mamata did not seek protection from the NSG or any other central force,” a Union Home Ministry official said.

OP Singh, former Director General of Police of Uttar Pradesh, said that although law and order is the responsibility of the state government, if the state police cannot afford to provide ironclad security, it would affect VIPs as well as the common man. “There is an urgent need to fill the gaps. The prime minister’s latest security breach is the biggest example of that,” he said. “It seems that actionable and credible intelligence was not available from the Punjab police. And even if it was there, there were breaches somewhere that led to the breach.

Singh’s views were backed by former Maharashtra DGP Praveen Dixit, who is among the former IPS officers who have written to President Ram Nath Kovind, demanding an investigation into the prime minister’s security breach. He said that if established procedures were followed during VIP moves, the chances of anything going wrong were quite low. “Unless there is a deliberate gaffe or scheme, a security breach cannot occur,” Dixit said.

But what about cases where VIPs themselves break protocol? Few security czars have an answer to that. In 2019, Congress President Rahul Gandhi had an impromptu interaction with reporters at Amethi that prompted a security alert. It was reported that a “laser” was pointed at him at least seven times outside the Amethi Collector, where he applied for the Lok Sabha polls. Questions were raised as to whether a sniper was aiming at him. An investigation by the SPG, which was guarding Rahul at the time, revealed that the laser came from the mobile phone of the official congressional photographer. The Gandhis are now guarded by the CRPF.

“Times have changed and so have the requirements. Emphasis must be placed on training, coordination and proper use of technology to avoid a security nightmare. In addition, the central government must take immediate action to stop the theft of explosive materials from industries,” a CRPF official said. With IED recoveries indicating an imminent threat, the National Investigation Agency asked the Union Home Office to create a digital database to track the manufacture and sale of explosive materials, and set the responsibilities.

Until then, leaders should stop playing politics on security threats, say officers involved in VIP security. “They must cooperate with the security forces and heed the advice of officers on duty. Disregarding caution when interacting with the public or deliberately breaking safety protocols can put many lives at risk,” a senior officer said.

There was a time when presidents and prime ministers could walk the streets and interact with people. A retired officer who handled VIP security recalled a visit by President Neelam Sanjiva Reddy to Hyderabad. He was at the zoo and was about to get in his car to go to the Raj Bhavan, when he saw a group of people. Reddy started chatting with them and the conversation lasted about 15 minutes.

Traffic was jammed outside and commuters were bustling. Just as the police reluctantly released traffic, Reddy finished his conversation and got into his car. The convoy was quickly caught in a messy traffic jam. After being stuck in the car for a while, Reddy got out and started walking. His cavalcade finally caught up with him and led him to the Raj Bhavan.

Today, this will be an unimaginable scenario for VIPs and their security planners.

PROTECTED NSG

YOGI ADITYANATH
Chief Minister, Uttar Pradesh

RAJNATH SINGH
Union Minister of Defense

MULAYAM SINGH YADAV,
former Chief Minister, Uttar Pradesh

LK ADVANI
former deputy prime minister

SARBANANDA SONOWAL
Union Minister for Ports, Shipping and Waterways

RAMAN SINGH
former Chief Minister, Chhattisgarh

GHULAM NABI AZAD
former opposition leader, Rajya Sabha

PARKASH SINGH BADAL
former Chief Minister, Punjab

FAROOQ ABDULLAH
MP and former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir

MAYAWATI
former Chief Minister, Uttar Pradesh

N. CHANDRABABU NAIDU
former Chief Minister, Andhra Pradesh

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