The Narendra Modi government is likely to withdraw the Special Protection Group (SPG) from former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s security detail shortly, according to several sources.
The decision, reportedly taken after a three-month review involving the Cabinet Secretariat and the Ministry of Home Affairs with inputs from intelligence agencies the Research and Analysis Wing and the Intelligence Bureau has not yet been formally communicated in writing, but was “orally” conveyed to the former Prime Minister, the sources confirmed to The Hindu .
This would mean that the elite protection force of about 3,000 officers meant for the Prime Ministers, the former Prime Ministers and their families would now be tasked with protecting only Mr. Modi, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her children Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
According to an official privy to the development, who asked not to be identified, the government had, according to the procedures laid down by the SPG Act, 1988, renewed Dr. Singh’s SPG detail for a year after he demitted office in 2014, and subsequently, on an annual basis after reviewing the threats faced by him and his wife Gursharan Kaur. (Dr. Singh’s daughters, who were also eligible, had given up SPG cover voluntarily in 2014).
However, on May 25 this year, the government decided not to fully renew the SPG cover, and instead ordered a three-month review process, which ended on Sunday. Dr. Singh’s SPG unit was also told about the decision and asked to await a final decision. “I can confirm that the government has informed Dr. Singh that he is no longer eligible for SPG protection,” another well-informed source said, adding that this was conveyed by a senior intelligence official directly to the former Prime Minister. However, no written order had been sent as yet, and the 200-plus strong SPG force at Dr. Singh’s Motilal Nehru Place residence in Delhi remains in place, indicating that there may yet be a change in decision.
The Hindu contacted several government agencies, including the Cabinet Secretariat, the Ministry of Home Affairs and intelligence agencies, in order to prepare this report, but received no official response. Dr. Singh also declined to comment on the development.
Plans for the move raised some eyebrows within the security establishment. One official said that while the government was technically within the law to withdraw SPG protection to any former Prime Minister, it had chosen not to do so for Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who demitted office in 2004 and had SPG protection until he passed away in 2018. A prolonged illness had kept Vajpayee home-bound for the past decade. Dr. Singh is more “exposed” as he frequently travels. for political engagements and was just re-elected a member of the Rajya Sabha, the official explained.
A retired SPG officer said the SPG cover would only be reduced on the basis of threat levels as defined in the SPG Act of 1988. “No govt. in power would take the risk of scaling down security without analysing the threat perception closely. No govt. would like to be discredited in taking a decision purely for political considerations,” he said, citing former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, which brought much criticism to his successor V.P. Singh, whose government had withdrawn Mr. Gandhi’s SPG protection.
The SPG was set up in 1985 after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and Parliament passed the SPG Act in 1988 dedicating the group to protecting the Prime Minister of India. At the time, the Act did not include former Prime Ministers, and when V.P. Singh came to power in 1989 his government withdrew SPG protection to the outgoing PM Rajiv Gandhi. After Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in 1991 the SPG Act was amended, offering SPG protection to all former Prime Ministers and their families for a period of at least 10 years.
During his tenure that began in 1999, PM Vajpayee’s government conducted a major review of the SPG’s operations, and decided to withdraw SPG protection to former PMs P.V. Narasimha Rao, H.D. Deve Gowda, and I.K. Gujral. In 2003, the Vajpayee government also amended the SPG Act to bring the period of automatic protection down from 10 years to “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.”
( With inputs from Sandeep Phukan)