Withdrawing SPG cover for Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka: No legal or moral rationale behind giving Gandhis elite protection cover
For the second consecutive day, the Congress attempted to move adjournment motion in Lok Sabha, censuring the Modi government for withdrawal of the elite SPG security cover from the Gandhis. Even the staunchest of Congress allies did not come out in support and party strategists and floor managers failed to mobilise opinion within and outside of Parliament.
Congress chief Sonia Gandhi walking through Gate number one of Parliament House was a rare sight for party leaders. The imposing gate at the main porch is used by Members of Parliament and most Union ministers, as also for mediapersons, to enter the "temple of Indian democracy".
For the past two decades (since 1999 when she first entered Parliament), Sonia used the gate on the rear end of the building to gain entry because of SPG (Special Protection Group) protection. The Congress chief still has Z+ security cover and could still use the rear gate, but entry through Gate Number one was to convey a message. The Congress cadres were livid over their "supreme leader" walking through the corridors of Parliament without any armed commandos.
However, no unauthorised person can enter the high-security zone, which also brings focus on Congress chief's extreme security concerns inside the Parliament House. Since the 2001 attack, security is extremely tight.
For the second consecutive day, the Congress attempted to move adjournment motion in Lok Sabha, censuring the Modi government for withdrawal of the elite SPG security cover from the Gandhis. Speaker Om Birla rejected their plea but that didn't stop Congress' leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury to raise the issue and speak for few minutes, asserting "sacrifices" made by Nehru-Gandhi family for the country, the special status it enjoyed in eyes of ordinary citizens and security concerns that the Congress's first family still had.
Even the staunchest of Congress allies did not come out in support and party strategists and floor managers failed to mobilise opinion within and outside of Parliament. The Congress's continued obsession for SPG protection has raised eyebrows. The elite security, meant exclusively to protect Prime Minister of India, had been given to the Gandhis for about three and a half decades now — since the time it was formed in 1985 after Indira Gandhi's assassination and when Rajiv Gandhi became the prime minister.
The official law regarding SPG states:
"There shall be an armed force of the Union called the Special Protection Group for providing proximate security to:
- the Prime Minister and the members of his immediate family; and
- any former Prime Minister or to the members of his immediate family:
- for a period of one year from the date on which the former Prime Minister ceased to hold office and beyond one year based on the level of threat as decided by the Central Government, so however that not more than twelve months shall elapse between two consecutive assessments made in regard to the need for proximate security: Provided that while deciding the level of threat, the Central Government shall take into account, among other things, the following factors, namely:
- that the threat emanates from any militant or terrorist organisation or any other source; and
- that the threat is of a grave and continuing nature;"
If the SPG is withdrawn, it's not that the Gandhis will go completely without security protection. Based on the review of threat perception, their security cover has been downgraded and they now have a 'Z+' security protocol whereby the CRPF and Delhi Police will provide them with a security cover. Their security protocol will be same as that of home minister Amit Shah.
It was only briefly that the Gandhi family didn't have SPG security cover since its inception — when Congress lost election and when Rajiv Gandhi had to relinquish the prime minister's post because the original Act didn't have a provision of its extension for former prime ministers and their immediate family members. The SPG Act was subsequently amended in 1991 that a former prime minister and his immediate family will be given this security for 10 years from the time he ceases to hold office. The law was again amended in 1999 by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government to say that former prime ministers and their family members will be given the elite cover for one year from the time the prime minister leaves office. The situation will be reviewed accordingly each year, the amended law further stated.
Narendra Modi government is well within its right, and in accordance with the law, in withdrawing SPG cover from the Gandhis. While there has been a great deal of debate on VVIP security and 'lal batti' entitlement among the political class, not much was discussed over the rationale behind continued SPG protection to Sonia, her two children and Robert Vadra (when he travelled with his wife Priyanka). The Gandhi family has flouted SPG protocol on several occasions.
Since 2015 to May 2019, Rahul Gandhi on 1,892 occasions defied official advice and travelled in a non-bullet resistant (BR) vehicle in Delhi, which amounts to almost one incident everyday. There have been 247 occasions in same period when he travelled in a non-BR vehicle outside Delhi. He even travelled on the roof of a vehicle on a few occasions during internal tours in violation of the provisions of the Motor Vehicle Act and security advices.
Of the total 156 foreign visits that he undertook since 1991, Rahul did not take SPG officers on 143 visits. In most of these 143 foreign visits, the former Congress chief shared the travel itinerary at the eleventh hour preventing the SPG officers from accompanying him.
Sonia Gandhi, too, did not use SPG BR vehicle on 50 occasions while travelling in New Delhi from 2015 to May 2019. On all, but one of these occasions, Rahul drove her non-BR car. Sonia also did not take SPG officers on 24 of her foreign visits since 2015.
Priyanka, too had similar record. From 2015 till mid-2019, she did not use SPG BR vehicles for her travel on 339 occasions within Delhi and on 64 occasions at other places in the country. Of total 99 foreign visits that she has undertaken since 1991, she took SPG security cover only on 21 occasions and refused to take the security for other 78 visits. These disclosures by security agencies came after the government decided to withdraw the SPG security cover of Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka after a detailed assessment of their threat perception.
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