The Centre on Friday withdrew the Special Protection Group (SPG) security of Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra and downgraded them to the Z-plus security covered by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). With this decision, the nearly 3,000 strong elite force SPG will now only be guarding the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Home Ministry senior officials said the withdrawal of SPG cover was taken after a high-level committee chaired by the Union Home Secretary after the periodic review of threat perceptions.
The Gandhis will be without SPG protection for the first time in 28 years. They were included in the VVIP security list following an amendment in September 1991 in the SPG Act of 1988. Under Z-plus security by CRPF, they will have commandos from the paramilitary force in proximity besides guards at their homes and wherever they travel in the country, the officials said.
Family violated SPG rules
The officials said that on many occasions, the Gandhi family had violated SPG rules, including Sonia Gandhi, who refused to use bullet-resistant (BR) vehicles and avoided the SPG commandos several times during foreign trips. In 2016, the then Home Minister Rajnath Singh in Lok Sabha blamed Rahul Gandhi for totally keeping the SPG officers in the dark as and when he buzzed off abroad.
Referring to Rahul Gandhi, the official said, during 2005-2014, the Congress leader had traveled in non-BR vehicles on 18 visits to different parts of the country. Since 2015, there have been 1,892 occasions (till May 2019) when Rahul Gandhi traveled in a non-BR vehicle in Delhi, which amounts
to about one trip a day. Besides, on 247 occasions (till June 2019), he traveled in a non-BR vehicle outside Delhi. Out of the total 156 foreign visits that Rahul Gandhi 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 SPG officers from accompanying him on the tours.
Referring to Sonia Gandhi, the official said she did not use SPG BR vehicle on 50 occasions, while traveling in Delhi from 2015 to May 2019. On all but one of these occasions, Rahul Gandhi himself drove her non-BR car. She also undertook 13 unscheduled visits to various places in the country in the last five years (till May 2019) during which she used non-BR cars. The Congress president also did not take SPG officers on 24 of her foreign visits since 2015.
Family wanted SPG removed
When the Modi government came to power in mid-2014, the Gandhi family wrote to remove the SPG officers from Rajiv Gandhi Foundation’s office. This office was the major area of operation of Gandhi family and there was an SPG security booth in that building. After the Modi Government came to power, Gandhi family doubted that many SPG officers were reporting their activities to the Intelligence Bureau. Many believe that this might be the reason, Sonia wanted to avoid SPG from the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation building.
On Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the official said since 2015, till May 2019, she did not use SPG BR vehicles for her travel on 339 occasions within Delhi and 64 occasions at other places in the country. Priyanka Gandhi used non-BR vehicles against the advice of SPG officers on these visits. Out of the total 99 foreign visits that Priyanka Gandhi has undertaken since 1991, she took SPG security cover only on 21 occasions and refused to take the security for the other 78 visits.
On most of these tours, Priyanka Gandhi shared her travel plan at the eleventh hour rendering it impossible for SPG to depute officers for her security. Since May 2014, on several occasions, she had reportedly leveled allegations against SPG officers that they were collecting her personal and confidential information and sharing with unauthorised persons. She even allegedly threatened top officials of the SPG with legal action. The SPG has from time to time countered such allegations by clarifying that it confines its work to strictly the official charter, the official said.
To many SPG officers, protection of Priyanka’s husband Robert Vadra was a real headache. Many officers requested their bosses in SPG to avoid them from handling Priyanka’s security due to changing habits and uncontrolled anger at many times.
SPG protectees, under the rules, are provided with guards, hi-tech vehicles, jammers and an ambulance in their convoy. In August this year, the government withdrew the SPG cover of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The SPG Act, enacted by Parliament in 1988, was initially supposed to provide security to only to the Prime Minister and to the former Prime Ministers of the country for 10 years. In 2003, the Act was amended, and the time frame of 10 years was reduced to one year.
The Act was amended after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi to include the immediate family members of former prime ministers, paving the way for Sonia Gandhi as well her children to get SPG security. The need for a separate force for guarding the prime minister of the country was felt after the then prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her security guards on October 31, 1984. After her death, a committee was constituted to review the security of the prime minister of the country.
It recommended the formation of a Special Protection Group. In 1985, an inspector general rank officer was nominated as its first director and the organisation continued to function on an executive order for another three years. VP Singh Government had withdrawn Rajiv Gandhi’s SPG security. Rajiv’s family was provided SPG after the threat perceptions from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 1991.
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