The Congress has upped its ante against the Narendra Modi government alleging political vendetta after the home ministry announced it was withdrawing the SPG (Special Protection Group) security cover granted to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
The matter was vociferously raised in Parliament and Congress workers took to streets in Delhi to lodge a protest against the Modi government's decision to downgrade the security of Sonia Gandhi and her children Rahul and Priyanka from SPG cover to Z+.
The government has not responded to the charge. In its original statement, the government had said the new security cover was revised on the basis of the latest threat perception. Now, only Prime Minister Narendra Modi enjoys the protection of the over 3,000-strong SPG force.
Till now, Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka too had the same security cover as the Prime Minister of India. This means of the four SPG protectees in India, three were Gandhis. Now, they are one of about 30 VIPs who have Z+ security.
HOW GANDHIS GOT SPG COVER?
SPG protection was given to the Gandhis in 1991 following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. The SPG had been created in the aftermath of the assassination of Indira Gandhi, who was killed by her bodyguards in 1984. The SPG came up in 1988. It was meant to extend protection to the prime minister. Rajiv Gandhi, the then prime minister and his immediate family got SPG protection.
Rajiv Gandhi was voted out of power in 1989 and the VP Singh government that came to power withdrew his SPG security cover though concerns were raised even then regarding the threat to his life. In 1991, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in a suicide bomb attack during the election campaign.
The new government under PV Narasimha Rao amended the SPG Act to provide SPG security even to former prime ministers and immediate family for 10 years and provided for continuing the SPG cover till the government thinks that threat perception is required such security cover.
WHAT SPG COVER BROUGHT TO GANDHIS?
Sonia Gandhi and her children got SPG cover in 1991 and continued to be protectees till the government downgraded the security cover to Z+. By virtue of being SPG protectees, Sonia Gandhi got allotted a huge bungalow, at 10-Janpath in New Delhi. It was the same bungalow that Rajiv Gandhi had been allotted.
For eight years, from 1991 to1999, no one from the Gandhi family was a Member of Parliament, but Sonia Gandhi still stayed in the same 10-Janpath bungalow. Three general elections were held in between but her occupancy of the bungalow continued.
Rahul Gandhi too had occupied the same bungalow in the Lutyens' Delhi. For other MPs, their residence may change after each election. SPG security cover to Rahul Gandhi gave him this privilege.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra too has been in possession of a bungalow as an SPG protectee. She, however, pays a rent for the accommodation. Now, Priyanka Gandhi faces the risk of being evicted from her Lutyens' Delhi bungalow unless she becomes an MP.
SPG cover means a special protocol -- only accorded to the prime minister -- for Gandhis. The SPG protectees travel in special bulletproof or armoured cars including BMW-7 series.
Under the SPG Act, the commandos carry ultra-modern assault rifles and the state governments are bound to meet the security cover demands of the SPG. An SPG protectee is entitled to use special choppers or aircraft of the Indian Air Force for transport.
With the withdrawal of SPG cover, the Gandhis are set to lose these entitlements. It also means that the media persons can easily surround the cars Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi or Priyanka Gandhi may be travelling by, as some TV channels showed earlier this morning.
OTHER VIP SECURITY
As a victim of terror, India has devised a graded security coverage for its VIPs. In 2015, Haribhai Choudhary -- then the MoS Home and currently MoS Coal and Mines -- had told the Rajya Sabha that security cover for VIPs is decided as per the Blue Book and Yellow Book.
Blue Book standards are applied in the cases of the President, the Vice President and the Prime Minister. Accordingly, Prime Minister of India gets SPG or Special Protection Group coverage. The President's security is the responsibility of an elite household cavalry regiment of the Indian Army called the President's Bodyguard.
For other VIPs, Yellow Book standards are followed. The security cover grades such as Z+, Z, Y and X are covered in the Yellow Book and given to VIPs based on their individual threat perception as assessed by the Union home ministry.
Under Z+ cover, a team of 55 personnel -- including at least 10 NSG (National Security Guard) commandos -- provide security to a protectee. Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi will now have 55 security personnel guarding them each instead of 70-100 SPG commandos.
NOT THE FIRST CHANGE IN SPG COVER
The Congress government amended the SPG Act to bring the Gandhi family under its cover in 1991. The Atal Bihari Vajpayee government brought another set of changes in 1999. It withdrew the SPG security to former prime ministers Rao, HD Deve Gowda and Inder Kumar Gujral.
However, former prime minister Vajpayee continued to have SPG cover even after he demitted office in 2004. Vajpayee's SPG cover continued over the tenures of Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi right until his death in 2018.
The Modi government had earlier in August this year said the SPG protection for Manmohan Singh had been withdrawn. He now has Z+ security same as the Gandhis.