SPG cover for Gandhis a non-issue; Congress doing grave disservice to nation, itself through sycophantic approach

  • When there are so many crucial national issues to be highlighted during the ongoing Parliament session, the Congress is focussed at the government's decision to withdraw SPG cover for the Gandhi family

  • There are plenty of issues in front of Congress to target the BJP such as the poor status of economy, the rising onion prices and industrialist Rahul Bajaj accusing the government of creating an 'atmosphere of fear', among others

  • The outrage over the brutal gangrape and murder of a woman vet in Hyderabad provides Congress with ample opportunity to put the government on the mat and demand accountability

Trust Congress to lose the plot even when issues are handed to it on a platter. At a time when the Parliament is in session, India’s ‘principal’ Opposition party is expected to raise issues that are important to the nation and demand answers from the government.

There are plenty of issues.

The economy is tanking. The quarterly GDP growth rate for July-September has slowed to 4.5 percent — the weakest since January-March 2013 while the nominal GDP rate during the quarter was the lowest in the current 2011-12 series. Some analysts say India’s nominal growth — a below 8 percent — is now the weakest in last 15 years.

While the economy is heading south, onion is going north, bringing tears to the eyes of commoners. In Maharashtra’s Nashik, onion prices have reached Rs 11,000 per quintal. The quantum of rise can be gauged from the fact that in August, onion prices were between Rs 1,000-3,000 per quintal and the average price was Rs 2,400 per quintal.

 SPG cover for Gandhis a non-issue; Congress doing grave disservice to nation, itself through sycophantic approach

File image of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and son Rahul Gandhi. PTI

Amid the falling economy and rising onion prices, an industrialist has raised his voice against what he called “an atmosphere of fear”. Bajaj Group chairman Rahul Bajaj, a veteran industrialist, during an awards function on Sunday, told Union Home Minister Amit Shah and a host of other ministers in the Narendra Modi Cabinet that “when UPA II was in power, we could criticise anyone…. You (the government) are doing good work, but despite that, we don’t have the confidence that you will appreciate if we criticise you openly….”

The patriarch of Bajaj Group, that has its interests in passenger vehicles and finance among other sectors, also criticised the government for the remark of Bhopal MP Pragya Singh Thakur in the Parliament and “lack of action” against lynching.

While Bajaj is entitled to his opinion, many have pointed out that the Modi government has received more than its fair share of criticism and its every action continues to be scrutinised by the Opposition, media and civil society as it should be in a democracy.

Still, the issue of a veteran industrialist accusing the government of creating an “atmosphere of fear” provides a platform for Congress to target the BJP.

The country is also outraged and emotionally charged over the brutal gangrape and murder of a 26-year-old woman vet in Hyderabad. The media has given the issue wide publicity. The Parliament has expressed its anger and protesters have hit the streets demanding better security for women and an end to the relentless cycle of sexual violence against women. All these issues provide Congress with ample opportunity to put the government on the mat and demand accountability.

Instead, Congress has made the removal of SPG cover for the Gandhi family as the main issue. During the passing of the Bill to amend SPG Act on Tuesday, Congress members walked out of Rajya Sabha, apparently dissatisfied with the Union home minister’s arguments during the debate.

When there are so many crucial national issues to be highlighted during the ongoing Parliament session, Congress’ conduct is not only unbecoming of an Opposition party, an embarrassment for its legacy but also indicative of self-destructive myopia that it suffers from. It seems to be more concerned with the well-being of the Gandhi family than the security of women across India.

Media reports have emerged that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s security was “breached” last week when a car filled with her “fans” (three women, three men and a child) barged into her Lodhi Estate residence and asked for her selfies. The Congress raised hell in both the Houses of the Parliament, accusing the Modi government of carrying out vendetta politics because the Gandhi family’s SPG cover was recently replaced by Z+ security detail along with an ambulance.

Union home minister Shah has pointed out in both Houses of the Parliament during the debate that the Gandhis’ security cover has not been downgraded but altered so that now the security detail that Gandhi family members enjoy is in line with the security cover for top Union Cabinet ministers and the President of India. Three members of the family — Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka — have been given Z-plus top-grade security cover with ambulance and are guarded by personnel who were part of SPG previously, according to Shah.

The SPG cover, according to the Special Protection Group (Amendment) Bill, proximate security will be given only to the prime minister and members of his immediate family if they live with him at his official residence. The government’s argument is that since the existing SPG Act has no cut-off period for providing security to former prime ministers or members of their immediate families, it presents a severe constraint on resources, training and related infrastructure of the SPG that impacts the principle protectee — the prime minister in office.

It is to be noted that members of the Gandhi family were included in the VVIP security list following an amendment of the SPG Act in September 1991, and they would be without SPG cover for the first time in 28 years. But Shah has pointed out that the decision to strip the Gandhis of their SPG cover and replace it with the topmost security detail available in the country (excluding the PM’s SPG).

Congress’ anguish would have been understandable had the Gandhis been stripped of security cover. However, if they are getting security cover in line with the President of India and top Union Cabinet ministers, then the clamour from Congress for ‘SPG cover and SPG cover alone’ for Gandhis reeks of an attitude of entitlement. Almost as if the Gandhis want protection not for security but for the status symbol that it has to be on par with the Prime Minister of India.

On the issue of Priyanka Vadra’s reported “security breach”, Shah pointed out on the floor of Rajya Sabha that owing to a “strange coincidence”, such an incident had taken place. Priyanka’s security personnel were apparently informed that her brother Rahul would be visiting her in a black ‘Tata Safari’ SUV but instead of him, some Congress workers from Meerut in Uttar Pradesh came in a similar vehicle and so were allowed in the house, Shah told the Parliament. He also said that three personnel have been suspended pending a high-level inquiry.

It is needless to ponder over the strange coincidence over the black SUV, but it is hardly an issue worth going ballistic over in the Parliament and staging a walkout. The Congress continues to do itself and the nation grave disservice through its policy of sycophancy of the Gandhis.

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Updated Date: Dec 03, 2019 19:37:15 IST