NEW DELHI :
The Union home ministry on Friday withdrew the special protection group (SPG) cover of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and senior party leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. They will now be extended Z-plus protection by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).
The decision comes just three months after the Centre pulled out the SPG cover of former prime minister Manmohan Singh. Now, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the only SPG protectee.
“The Z+ security cover by the CRPF is to be maintained and no compromise in the security is to happen. A case by case security review is done as per a regular procedure," a home ministry spokesperson said.
While the Z-plus security cover, one of the highest, is provided by the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs), the Gandhis will be given CRPF cover.
A government official said security cover reviews were a periodical and professional exercise based on threat perception.
The decision to withdraw the security provided by the SPG, the country’s highest grade of protection, is taken only after a review involving the cabinet secretariat and the ministry of home affairs, with inputs from various intelligence agencies.
Senior Congress leader and Rajya Sabha member Ahmed Patel, however, hit out at the Centre on Twitter, saying: “The BJP has descended to the ultimate personal vendetta mechanism, compromising the lives of family members of 2 Former Prime Ministers to acts of terror and violence."
The reference was to assassinated prime ministers Indira and Rajiv Gandhi.
Explaining the rationale, senior officials familiar with the development, said: “Sonia Gandhi did not use her SPG Buller Resistant (BR) vehicle on 50 occasions, while travelling within New Delhi between May 2015 and 2019. 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. She also did not take SPG officers on 24 of her foreign visits since 2015."
An SPG review showed that on 1,892 occasions between May 2015 and 2019, Rahul Gandhi travelled in non-BR vehicles in Delhi, while on 247 occasions till June 2019, he travelled in a non-BR vehicle outside Delhi.
At the same time, out of the 156 foreign tours that he had undertaken since 1991, he did not take SPG officers on 143 visits.
The officials added that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had, on multiple occasions since May 2015, alleged that SPG officers “were collecting her personal and confidential information and sharing it with unauthorized persons". These allegations have been denied by the SPG.
The SPG is an armed force that provides proximate security to the prime minister. Following the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, the SPG Act was amended to provide protection to all former prime ministers and their families for at least 10 years.
In 2002, this was amended again to make a provision for an annual review of SPG protectees and threat assessments.
In response to the move, Congress workers staged a protest near Union home minister Amit Shah’s residence.
“In spite of serious and repeated threats against CP Smt. Sonia Gandhi, Shri @RahulGandhi & Smt. @priyankagandhi, PM Modi & HM Amit Shah have deemed it fit to revoke their SPG security. This is entirely due to BJP’s personal hatred & vendetta politics," the Congress’ official handle tweeted.