The Centre on Friday withdrew the Special Protection Group security cover of interim Congress President Sonia Gandhi, and party leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, The Indian Express reported. They will now be granted Z-plus category protection across India. This entitles them to protection by the Central Reserve Police Force.

The decision was taken after an assessment by Union Home Ministry based on inputs from the Intelligence Bureau and the Research and Analysis Wing.

In August, the government had withdrawn former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Special Protection Group security cover. The elite force has more than 3,000 personnel, and protects prime ministers, former prime ministers and their families. From now, the Special Protection Group will only protect Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Special Protection Group was set up in 1985 following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi the year before. In 1991, after the assassination of Indira Gandhi’s son Rajiv Gandhi, the SPG Act was amended to allow the force to protect former prime ministers for 10 years.

In 2003, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government amended the law again to reduce the period of protection to just one year, depending on the level of threat perception.

In October, the security cover of Rahul Gandhi came under scrutiny after officials found there have been 1,892 occasions from 2015 to May this year when he did not travel in a bullet-resistant vehicle in Delhi. He has also been reportedly reluctant to use SPG cover abroad.

Congress leader Ahmed Patel criticised the move. “The BJP has descended to the ultimate personal vendetta mechanism, compromising the lives of family members of two former Prime Ministers to acts of terror and violence,” he tweeted.

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