“The intelligence agencies, after a detailed review of threat perception of the Gandhis, have advised downgrading of security protection accorded to them from SPG cover to “Z plus security”, reports The Sunday Guardian.
If at all centre accepts the centre’s recommendation, then the Gandhis – Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi would lose their SPG cover and will be replaced with a ‘Z plus’ security. At present, only Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the three Gandhis are recipients of proximate security by SPG personnel.
The agencies intelligencies have concluded that while evaluating the danger posed to the Gandhis, that their safety would be ensured by replacing the SPG with ‘Z plus’. As of now-former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, top BJP leaders LK Advani and Murali Manohar Joshi, as well as Defence Minister Rajnath Singh are under ‘Z Plus’ protection. Union Home Minister Amit Shah has been accorded with a ‘Z special’ category security.
However, the withdrawal could be controversial as some argue that two members of the Gandhi family, both former Prime Ministers were brutally assassinated and that the withdrawal of the SPG could have wide-ranging political ramifications. While former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards following Operation Bluestar in 1984, ex-PM Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in 1991 when he was not holding the post.
The threat perception to individuals is annually evaluated and a decision is taken based on the appraisal arrangements for security after evaluation. An expert committee from various intelligence agencies put forth their recommendations to the Home Ministry and the Cabinet Secretariat, where the final decision is taken after due consultation with the government.
Recently, in a bid to strengthen the security cover provided to the Gandhis and to keep track of their movements, the Special Protection Group (SPG), which provides protection to them, was also tasked with a fresh mandate by the Centre. The Gandhi family has been notified that they should allow SPG personnel to accompany them all the time when they travel abroad. In case, if they are not willing to accept the mandatory SPG protection then there could be curtailment on their foreign visits on account of security considerations.
The Gandhis – Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and daughter Priyanka Gandhi would earlier travel with the SPG till their first location abroad, who would then send the SPG personnel back to the country, preferring their own privacy. The Gandhis would then travel to destinations of their choice, thereby making themselves susceptive to risks.
For instance, if any of the Gandhis was travelling to Thailand, the SPG would escort them till there and thereafter fly back to New Delhi. From Thailand, the family of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi would be on their own with Indian missions coordinating with the local police for ensuring their safety.
The SPG was formed in 1985, as a protection unit for the Prime Minister, after the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her own security guards. It was set up after the submission of the Birbal Nath committee report and formalised under an Act in 1988. In the beginning, sharpshooters from the IPS, as well as other ranks from various state police organisations, paramilitary outfits and the intelligence agencies were inducted into the elite squad. S. Subramaniam was made its first director. Presently, the SPG has more than 3,000 personnel who guard Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Sonia Gandhi and her son and daughter, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, respectively.
With centre issuing new guidelines, the Gandhis have to now submit every minute detail of their travel plans. They have been asked to supply information of their past few tours as well. The direction will also enable the Centre to keep track of their movements while ensuring their protection.
Presently, the standard operating procedure is whenever a protectee arrives in any country, the Indian mission will coordinate with the local police and other authorities to ensure the security cover. The SPG only provides proximate protection. This arrangement will remain unaltered except that the SPG would have a more noticeable and pronounced role. The arrangement of the SPG being ever-present with their protectee had existed in the past as well, but the financial implications had compelled the then government to review the terms of engagement.
Recently, the central government had also made some changes in the security cover provided to former PM Manmohan Singh. As per reports, the SPG security provided to Dr Manmohan Singh was replaced with CRPF staff. The Gandhi Parivar was given the SPG protection after the assassination of both Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.
Reportedly, senior police officials and security experts had held that if the SPG cover had not been withdrawn from Rajiv Gandhi by the VP Singh government, an attack against him would have not been possible. After his death, a close aide of Rajiv Gandhi had stated that Sonia Gandhi had lost complete faith in the Indian security apparatus and till the SPG was provided to her, she continued to be guarded by private security personnel hired by her well-wishers.
In the past, the SPG has also been used to keep surveillance on the protectee. Reportedly, former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao had deployed the SPG personnel comprised of IB officials at 10, Janpath, to keep tabs on the visitors of Sonia Gandhi.
The Centre is also considering a proposal to amend the SPG Act to include only the serving Prime Minister and perhaps the President under its jurisdiction.”