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Who is to blame for Amritsar?

Who is to blame for Amritsar?

The Amritsar tragedy on the occasion of Dusshera that saw a train mowing down scores of people watching the effigy of Ravan being set ablaze in a ground next to the railway tracks, turned the festivity into mourning. As per the latest report, 59 people got killed in the accident while more than a hundred people received serious injuries. The event where the tragedy took place was organised by a local Congress councillor and state Tourism Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu's wife Navjot Kaur was the chief guest as the area falls in Sidhu's Amritsar East constituency. The venue was not adjacent to a level crossing as was reported initially, but about 500 meters from there. The driver of one of the trains which ran over the revellers said that he could not see the people on the tracks as the entire area was engulfed in thick smoke coming out of the burning effigy of Ravan. There was also a bend near the accident site that blocked the driver's view and he could not see that hundreds of people had assembled on the tracks. As per eyewitnesses, two trains came simultaneously from opposite directions on parallel tracks and people who tried to run away from one track got trapped in the other. In less than five seconds, the trains crossed the spot leaving behind a trail of dead and mutilated bodies. At the height of the festive mood, the tragic death of 59 people in the accident left the bereaved families in utter shock and disbelief. Not knowing what to do, the family members of the dead and injured sat on the railway tracks near the accident site and refused to move away. A number of trains remained cancelled while others had to change the route. Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh has ordered a magisterial inquiry into the incident.

Opposition parties BJP and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) have demanded the resignation of Sidhu over the incident as his wife was one of the chief guests at the function where the tragedy struck. The police have said that they had given permission to about 20 events in the area but were not sure if a permit was obtained for the event where the accident took place. But what is beyond doubt is that there were not enough policemen on duty at the event and there were none to ask people not to assemble on the tracks. This lack of security at an event where hundreds of people are expected is not only inexplicable but also indefensible. More importantly, when thousands of similar events were taking place almost at the same time across the state, who was overseeing the security arrangements? It seems the police department was alone in providing the necessary security and ensuring law and order at the Dusshera functions in the state while the Chief Minister and his Cabinet colleagues were busy celebrating.

From road and train blockades to public rallies, by the time politicians become MLAs or MPs, they have organised enough number of public functions to know what should be done at these functions and what must be avoided. Taking permission is one of the basic essentials. The process gives a political leader so much of experience in organising events and managing crowds that his experience is sought even by the police department to ensure a peaceful conduct of an event. This relationship between the political leaders and the law enforcement agencies deepen further when the politician become a minister or the Chief Minister. In the case of Punjab, we have a CM who is not only too aged to actively oversee all aspects of the administration. His connect with the ground realities is also doubtful given his elitist background. Then, we have Sidhu, a highly talented former cricketer who seldom put his exceptional talent to good use. His penchant for hitting a six always overrode the need of the team. Soon, he was seen in the role of a commentator and critic, which too lasted too soon given his free-flowing oratory laced with expletives. He made a fortune as one of the judges of different comedy shows on TV, where again his sense of discretion was totally misplaced. Most of these shows earned bad names for lewd jokes but for Sidhu they earned the much-need cash and recognition. More recently, he embraced Pakistan Army chief Javed Bajwa when he kind of offered him a lollipop in the name of opening a corridor to Kartarpur Gurudwara for Indian pilgrims. Then, he went on to say he feels more affinity for his neighbouring country than, for example, South India. The only talent that Sidhu brings to his government and the welfare of the people is his gift of gab. At this sombre moment when many families in Amritsar are mourning for the dead, both Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh and Sidhu should introspect and see if they could have done any better.

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