The grammar of VIP security

If checks are carried out before the arrival of the VIP and access control is ensured after, assassinations are largely preventable

Updated - August 11, 2022 11:23 am IST

Published - August 11, 2022 12:15 am IST

A man (centre right) suspected of shooting former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is tackled to the ground by the police in Nara on July 8, 2022.

A man (centre right) suspected of shooting former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is tackled to the ground by the police in Nara on July 8, 2022. | Photo Credit: AFP

There are parallels between the assassinations of Shinzo Abe and Rajiv Gandhi. Both of them were shot during an election campaign. Abe, a former Prime Minister of Japan, was killed by Tetsuya Yamagami who reportedly held a grudge against a “specific organisation”, possibly a religious group, that he believed was linked to Abe. Gandhi was killed by Dhanu, an operative of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which was apprehensive of the redeployment of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka. The details of a VIP’s security vary depending on place, time, and the stature and threat perception of the protectee. However, these details lend themselves to a few basic principles, called the grammar of VIP security. This grammar can be subsumed under two broad principles: anti-sabotage checks and access control.

Two broad principles

Anti-sabotage checks precede the arrival of the protectee and are intended to ensure the sterility of the place. This principle is strictly adhered to at the protectee’s place of stay and at the place of function. When the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport at Hyderabad was due for inauguration, the guests included Congress leader Sonia Gandhi and the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister. The anti-sabotage sweep was to be carried out at D-12, D-6 and D-2. The security wing disallowed the organisers from carrying out further works at D-12. A retired Director General of Police (DGP), who was employed at the GMR Group which owns the airport, asked the Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) for some relaxation. The DCP had worked under him before, but would not oblige.

Access control is a process put in place after the protectee’s arrival. Access control ensures that no unidentified, unchecked and unauthorised person is allowed within the vicinity of the protectee. By unidentified, we mean that no person should be permitted to be within the proximity of the protectee unless they are known and their antecedents screened. For instance, a bullet-proof car had to be used during the German Chancellor’s visit to Hyderabad. The State had bullet-resistant Ambassador cars. The German Embassy got a private bullet-proof Benz car. The owner of the car, a well-known industrialist, assured the authorities of the antecedents of the driver. But since the driver was not thoroughly known and was therefore regarded unchecked, a police driver was given training in that car and deployed.

Similarly, unchecked people are not allowed near the protectee, however well-known they are and if even if they have an appointment with the protectee. They must be checked. Once, I.K. Gujral, then Prime Minister, was staying in the Andhra Pradesh Raj Bhavan. D.R. Karthikeyan, an Indian Police Service officer, had an appointment with him. When Mr. Karthikeyan got up to meet him, a commandant of the CRPF accompanied him with a bouquet. A local security personnel objected to the commandant entering with an unchecked bouquet.

Unauthorised means that even though the visitor may be known and has been checked, they must have a purpose to be so close to the protectee. Once, P.V. Narasimha Rao was on the dais to felicitate Swamy Sivananda at an auditorium in Visakhapatnam. His son wanted to stand next to him on the dais, but was not allowed. The rationale was that there was no reason for the son to be so close to the Prime Minister as it had already been decided who would be on the dais.

Attention to detail

A few ancillary aspects entail scrupulous adherence too. First, security forces need to be sensitised before every visit as every visit is unique. As the protectees frequently visit capitals and pilgrimage spots, security forces tend to become complacent. Second, every visit is dynamic, even if it is to a secure place and a regularly visited one such as a Raj Bhavan. Third, security arrangements are like a chain and a chain is as strong as its weakest link. Fourth, security considerations are more important than the elegance of the place of function or stay or approach path of the VIP. If the security principles are consolidated into a science, attacks and assassinations are largely preventable.

Both anti-sabotage checks and access control were poor in the cases of Abe and Gandhi. Yamagami was within three metres of Abe. He was unchecked and his gun undetected. Dhanu was allowed in the VIP enclosure reportedly by the daughter of the Congress candidate, wrote Anirudhya Mitra in his book 90 Days. He wrote: “[At Sriperumbudur], there were no metal detectors and no frisking at the Venue. Nalini and Shubha escorted the human bomb Dhanu.” It is imperative that the Blue Book and the Yellow Book, the two bibles of VIP security, incorporate the principles of security as inviolable.

E. Damodar is a retired IPS officer

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