Congress' hue and cry over withdrawal of SPG cover misplaced, shows Gandhi family's uneasiness at not being special
With the SPG cover withdrawn, the Gandhi family is now like any other political family in the country and that makes Congress and its loyalists uneasy
The Narendra Modi government was well within its right and as per the law in withdrawing the SPG cover for the Gandhis
Formed in 1985, the SPG is an elite security force created exclusively to protect the Prime Minister of India
As per the SPG Act, security over can be extended to a former prime minister and immediate family members for a period of one year from the date on which the former prime minister ceased to hold office
The Gandhi family has been given SPG protection for 30 years even though Rajiv Gandhi ceased to be a prime minister in 1989
Besides Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka have routinely flouted the SPG protocol, and Priyanka has even accused the force of collecting information and sharing them with unauthorised persons
Sonia Gandhi and her two children Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi would now have to live their lives without the security cover of the Special Protection Group. The elite security which was created exclusively to protect the Prime Minister of India has been around for about three-and-half decades since its formation in 1985 — following Indira Gandhi’s assassination — during Rajiv Gandhi’s prime ministerial tenure.
It’s not that the Gandhis would be without adequate security protection. Based on the review of threat perception, their security cover has been downgraded to 'Z Plus’ whereby the CRPF would provide them security. Incidentally, their security protocol would be the same as that of BJP president and home minister Amit Shah. There can’t be an argument that Shah’s threat perception could be any lesser than that of the Gandhis.
Since its inception, the SPG has not provided security cover to the Gandhi family only for a brief period after the Congress lost the election in 1989 because the original act didn’t have a provision to extend the security cover to former prime ministers and their family members.
Unfortunately, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated during that period.
The SPG Act was subsequently amended in 1991 to include former prime ministers and their immediate family members for 10 years from the time he ceases to hold office. The SPG Act was again amended in 1999 by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government to state that former prime ministers and their immediate family members would be provided SPG security cover for one year from the time the prime minister ceases to hold office and a review would accordingly be done each year.
The SPG Act says: 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. The threat perception would be reviewed twice.
Modi government was well within its right and as per the law in withdrawing the SPG cover and all its consequent paraphernalia to the Gandhis. The CRPF has already moved in at the residences of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi to take over the charge and relieve the SPG.
While there had been a great deal of debate on VVIP security and the 'lal batti' entitlement, not much was ever discussed about the need and rationale behind continued SPG protection to Sonia and her two children. It was taken for granted and hasn't even evoked much debate as to why should the Gandhi family have been given SPG protection for 30 years even though Rajiv Gandhi ceased to be a prime minister in 1989. After all, it is paid by taxpayers and security protocol for SPG is much more elaborate, requiring the mobilisation of a far greater degree of personnel, equipment and drill not just by the SPG but also by the state governments concerned during their visits to the states.
The Congress had made it a big issue when former prime minister Manmohan Singh's SPG cover was removed by the Modi government. Singh himself had raised the issue with Modi.
It was only natural for the Congress party to came out in all its might against the Modi government and to cry vendetta and dirty politics on the removal of SPG cover to the Gandhis. Sonia Gandhi’s long-standing political secretary Ahmed Patel tweeted: "The BJP has descended to the ultimate personal vendetta mechanism, compromising the lives of family members of 2 Former Prime Ministers to acts of terror and violence (sic).”
The Indian Youth Congress tweeted: “It is extremely unfortunate and uncharacteristic of the govt to take away SPG protection from a family who have lost family members to extreme violence even after high security. This act of political vendetta is petty and utterly shameful.”
It hastily organised a protest in front of Shah’s residence. It was obviously without an impact for the Congress couldn’t get any popular support over the issue. In any case, the Gandhis still have high-level security but without that halo of the SPG.
Now consider some facts, how Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka routinely flouted the SPG protocol but would still want it.
Between 2015 and May 2019, Rahul defied advice and travelled in a non-bullet resistant (BR) vehicle in Delhi on 1,892 occasions. This amounts to almost one incident every day. There have been 247 occasions during the same period when Rahul 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 Vehicles Act and security advice.
Out of a total of 156 foreign visits that Rahul undertook since 1991, he did not take SPG officers on 143 visits. In most of these 143 foreign visits, he shared the travel itinerary at the eleventh hour preventing the SPG officers from accompanying him on these tours.
Sonia Gandhi too did not use 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. She also did not take SPG officers on 24 of her foreign visits since 2015.
Priyanka too had a similar record. From 2015 till mid-2019, she did not use BR vehicles for her travel on 339 occasions within Delhi and 64 occasions at other places in the country. Out of the total 99 foreign visits that she has undertaken since 1991, Priyanka took SPG security cover only on 21 occasions and refused to take the security for other 78 visits.
Official sources say that since the Modi government came to power in 2014 on some occasions Priyanka alleged that SPG officers were collecting her personal and confidential information and sharing with unauthorised persons. She even threatened the top officials of SPG of legal action.
The SPG cover made the Gandhis distinct from the rest of the political class in India. Now that it is gone, the Congress’ first family is now like any other political family in the country and that makes Congress and its loyalists uneasy.
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