May 8: A Gujarat police officer came, saw and went back. But Narendra Modi’s police and the Uttar Pradesh administration apparently did not meet for an advance security liaison (ASL) before the BJP mascot was denied permission for his Benia Bagh rally, sources said, as the controversy over the refusal escalated today.
The BJP protested against the denial of permission by the Varanasi returning officer, district magistrate Pranjal Yadav, while party leader Arun Jaitley also took on the Election Commission.
Benia Bagh park, in the heart of Varanasi, is a minority-dominated neighbourhood with a market area on one side, making it a “congested” locality, security officials in Delhi said, adding the ground does not have a “tolerance” of over 20,000 people.
A Gujarat police DIG had visited the park and is believed to have submitted a report to an officer of the rank of additional DGP in the western state on May 6. The report on the security situation was adverse, one of the sources told The Telegraph. “But what created the confusion is that the ASL was not held and things put on record.”
This might put Yadav, 44, in a spot since the responsibility for initiating the advance security liaison lay as much with the district administration as with Gujarat police.
At a news conference in Delhi, chief election commissioner V.S. Sampath said he had no reason to doubt Yadav’s “credentials and sincerity”.
Sources, however, said the row could have been avoided had permission for the rally been granted with riders, such as an undertaking from the BJP that the gathering would not exceed the capacity of the ground. “The administration could have conveyed that permission would be granted but police would need space for evacuation in case of an eventuality,” said an official.
Home ministry sources said the heartland administration and Gujarat police should have convened the ASL to put things on record, especially in the light of the standard operating procedures that are followed for Modi’s security and which were revised after the October 27 Patna blasts ahead of the Gujarat chief minister’s rally in the Bihar capital.
Modi’s rallies have been drawing a minimum of 20,000 people. With Benia Bagh having few exit routes, evacuation was a major concern, sources said. Even in the evening during Modi’s roadshow in Varanasi, a television channel showed a bull ambling into the crowd. “Even an aggressive bull can result in a stampede and Varanasi is full of them,” said a police officer.
While many said the controversy might have been avoided if senior Gujarat police officers had direct access to the chief minister, in Uttar Pradesh, the efficient but relatively young district magistrate may have misread the situation.
Yadav’s posting in Varanasi had raised eyebrows. For one, he was on inter-state deputation. Second, he was seen as too young to take care of Varanasi. Conventionally, senior officers with at least 15 years experience are posted as district magistrates to Kanpur, Agra, Varanasi, Allahabad and Lucknow.