On January 5, prime minister Narendra Modi’s cavalcade was forced to make an unscheduled halt of nearly 20 minutes, atop a flyover in Ferozepur, because a farmers’ protest was blocking his route. Much mudslinging between the Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress has followed the incident while the protestors have they had no prior knowledge that the PM would take that particular road.
Since the unscheduled stop was a security breach, both the Punjab government and the ministry of home affairs have instituted two separate committees to probe the matter.
Additionally, the Supreme Court has the Punjab and Haryana High Court to preserve the PM’s travel records from the day of the incident. A bench led by the Chief Justice of India NV Ramana has ordered both the state and Central government investigation committees to suspend their functioning till the next hearing on January 10. The bench has also appointed Chandigarh director general of police Praveer Ranjan and an official of the National Investigation Agency to help the registrar general, who will keep all travel records in his custody.
Videos from January 5, showing the PM’s stranded vehicles and protesting farmers, have been shown repeatedly on TV news channels. Most news channels emphasised how vulnerable the PM was for that window of time even though the cavalcade had been able to maintain a safe distance from the protest site.
However, there is also that shows one group of people, shouting slogans and carrying flags, did get close to the PM’s convoy. The flag that they were carrying had the BJP emblem on it and their slogan was, “Bharatiya Janata Party zindabad”. Even though this video is publicly available, many prominent media channels chose to not feature it in their coverage of the incident.
Especially since so many have spoken about how vulnerable the PM was while waiting for his route to be cleared, it’s worth noting that the video with BJP supporters shows unidentified individuals – with BJP’s flag – to be much closer to the PM’s convoy than the protesting farmers. Yet, aside from one English and one Hindi news channel, most mainstream TV news ignored this video.
Among the English news channels, NDTV showed the video with the BJP supporters in multiple bulletins, throughout the day. The on-screen alerts included phrases like “BJP workers near PM’s convoy in Punjab”. While discussing the PM’s security, anchor Sonal Mehrotra Kapoor raised the question of whether the BJP supporters in the video could have been a security threat. On his show The Big Fight, anchor Sanket Upadhyay discussed how the lapse was being politicised and mentioned the presence of BJP supporters.
The security breach got coverage on India Today throughout the day, but the video showing BJP supporters was not featured. The channel focussed on the SC’s directives and placed the onus of responsibility on the farmers who had blocked the highway, rather than on any possible lapses by the state police or the Special Protection Group that is responsible for the PM’s security. The channel claimed it had exclusive footage that showed “glaring lapse” in security. The video showed farmers blocking the flyover and multiple police personnel around the blockade.
India Today also claimed to have accessed letters sent a few days earlier to the Punjab police, warning of a possible farmer blockade during the PM’s visit. News director Rahul Kanwal discussed “potential cross border terrorism” while discussing the security breach on his show, Newstrack.
At 9 pm, on his show News Today, anchor Rajdeep Sardesai mentioned there was a video showing BJP supporters near the PM’s convoy, but it was not shown during the discussion.
Sardesai’s panel had former commissioner of Delhi Police, Neeraj Kumar; former DGP Maharashtra, Praveen Dixit; and former DGP Uttar Pradesh, AL Banerjee. At one point, Kumar said the lapse was on part of the local police and the accompanying visuals showed a group of people in the distance, waving what looks like a BJP flag. However, the visuals are blurry.
With #PMAmbushConspiracy splashed across the screen throughout the day, Times Now also decided that a different video, allegedly made by “Singhu sympathisers” in 2020, was the “biggest scoop on PM security breach”. The animated – which has been publicly available on YouTube since December 1, 2020 – showed a group of men ambushing the PM’s convoy.
This video, according to Times Now, was proof that the security lapse was a “pre-planned, premeditated attack”.
In his show India Upfront, editor-in-chief Rahul Shivshankar discussed this “scoop” with author Anand Ranganathan, advocate Sai Deepak, BJP’s GVL Narasimha Rao, Congress leader Kamruzzaman Chaudhary, political analyst Abhishek Sudhir, and lawyer Kapil Madan. Madan tried to bring up the video that showed BJP supporters near the cavalcade, but he was shouted down and Shivshankar diverted the discussion.
In the bulletins that Newslaundry reviewed, Republic TV did not show the video with the BJP supporters. The channel raised questions about Punjab Police, claiming it had taken 48 minutes to give the PM’s cavalcade the green signal to move to Hussainiwala. Republic TV also claimed sources had revealed to the channel that the Punjab’s DGP had been aware of the blockade. However, despite having 97 minutes to update the SPG on the blockade, the Punjab police had not relayed this information to the SPG.
During the 2 pm bulletin on Republic TV, a BJP flag was seen in a video from the location, but it was explained by an on-ground witness as the work of some “shararati log” (mischievous elements).
On his show The Debate, editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami bemoaned how vulnerable the PM had been on the flyover and warned of the possibility of a Khalistani terrorist angle to the protest. While speaking of Punjab police not updating the SPG, Goswami said “Punjab police allowed the prime minister to walk into a trap.” The screen showed phrases like “big security sabotage” during the debate.
Goswami also had lawyer Kapil Madan on the panel and yet again, Madan tried to bring up the presence of BJP supporters on the highway. However, on Republic TV, Madan was asked to “shut up” by BJP spokesperson Sanju Verma and then, Madan’s audio was cut off while Verma continued to speak.
Anchor Anjana Om Kashyap held a discussion on the incident on Aaj Tak on her show Halla Bol. The insinuation was that the farmers had planned the blockade on January 5 because they knew the PM’s convoy would take that particular route. Kashyap emphasised the PM’s security should be a non-partisan issue.
Congress spokesperson Sanjay Nirupam mentioned the BJP supporters on the highway and said there is video evidence of their presence. However, the matter was not given further attention and the video was not aired.
Of the Hindi news channels, only ABP News played the video showing BJP supporters, during their 5 pm show Hunkaar with anchor Rubika Liyaquat.
Liyaquat’s panel comprised former DGP of Uttar Pradesh Anand Banerjee; president of Kisan Shakti Sangh, Pushpendra Singh; Delhi university professors Sangeet Rogi and Vishal Mishra; and Congress spokesperson, Rohan Gupta. Gupta brought up the video with BJP supporters while speaking on Hunkaar and it was aired while he spoke. However, this angle was not discussed further on the show, which focused its attention on the political spat between Congress and BJP.
The bulletins reviewed by Newslaundry did not feature footage of BJP supporters. On Taal Thok Ke, anchor Aditi Tyagi mentioned the rap video that Times Now had shown and aired videos of farmers blocking the PM’s route. The focus of the discussion was the blame game surrounding the security lapse. Later, during editor-in-chief Sudhir Chaudhary’s DNA segment, a letter that the SPG had written to Punjab’s DGP about the threat posed by Khalistani groups was discussed. There was no mention of BJP supporters on the flyover.
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