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An inexplicable withdrawal

Congress President Sonia Gandhi with party leader Rahul Gandhi accompanied by SPG in New Delhi in October.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi with party leader Rahul Gandhi accompanied by SPG in New Delhi in October.   | Photo Credit: PTI

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The government has ignored risks to the Gandhis’ lives while withdrawing SPG cover

The withdrawal of the Special Protection Group (SPG) from the security grid of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra has led to furore in political circles. People from the Congress Party call it “vendetta politics” and say it would endanger the lives of the Gandhi family’s members. Earlier, SPG cover was withdrawn for ex-Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh.

The fact that both Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, grandmother and father respectively of Rahul and Priyanka, were assassinated for decisions taken by them as Prime Ministers seems to have been ignored in arriving on a decision to divest the Gandhis of the SPG security. In June this year and even as late as in the last week of August, intelligence agencies had alerted Mr. Gandhi of imminent threat to him from several militant groups. It is unclear what changed in two months to warrant a downgrade in threat perception.

Contrast this with the fact that former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was politically inactive and lay bedridden for a few years before his death, continued to enjoy SPG cover.

For PMs, and former PMs

Initially raised in March 1985, on the recommendations of the Birbal Nath Committee, as Special Protection Unit, with just 819 personnel, the SPG was transformed into an Armed Force of the union in 1988, through an act of Parliament.

While initially stipulating the provision of “proximate security of the Prime Minister of India and for matters therewith,” the SPG Act’s ambit was extended in 1991, following Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, to include former Prime Ministers as well as their families for 10 years. A review by the Vajpayee government in 1999 cut down the period from 10 years to one year, with provision for annual review. It is under this provision that a review was recently undertaken and the decision taken to replace the SPG security cover with that of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).

It is mind-boggling to imagine that following the withdrawal, the elite group with an effective strength of about 3,000 personnel will now be protecting only one person, the Prime Minister. In addition to these personnel, the Prime Minister has access to the Special Duty Group of CRPF, which secures the outer cordon of his residence on Race Course Road and office in the North Block.

However, one consolation here is most of the 50 CRPF personnel who will guard the four protectees are either former SPG commandos or former commandos of the National Security Guards.

Some of them served for over a decade in these elite organisations and are experts in VIP security. Incidentally, the CRPF has four battalions of highly trained and motivated commandos exclusively for VIP security. The Gandhis’ security cover will be on par with that of Union Home Minister Amit Shah.

News reports indicate that one of the reasons for downgrading the security cover is the fact that on several occasions, all three members of Gandhi family often moved around, in and out of the country, without the SPG cover and even without SPG-approved vehicles. The accusation here is that they (the Gandhis) failed “to cooperate with the protocol” and “impeded the smooth functioning of the SPG”. Government sources have doled out figures to indicate the number of times they eschewed the cover. However, this certainly does not justify the withdrawal move.

In national interest, the government should provide security on par with SPG protection to the members of the Gandhi family.

M.P. Nathanael is Inspector General of Police (Retd), CRPF

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Printable version | Dec 7, 2019 5:12:54 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/an-inexplicable-withdrawal/article30030049.ece

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