The Congress on Friday criticised the Centre’s decision to withdraw the Special Protection Group cover to the Gandhi family, including its interim chief Sonia Gandhi and leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi. The three leaders will instead get Z-plus level security cover.

“In spite of serious [and] repeated threats against CP [Congress President] Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, PM Modi & HM [Home Minister] Amit Shah have deemed it fit to revoke their SPG security,” the Congress tweeted. “This is entirely due to BJP’s personal hatred [and] vendetta politics.”

The Congress added that the government had earlier withdrawn the SPG cover of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and imprisoned its leaders P Chidambaram and D Shivakumar on “baseless charges”.

Senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel tweeted: “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.”

Congress leader KC Venugopal said it was former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee who gave the SPG cover to the three Gandhis, ANI reported. “Two former PMs of India, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, were murdered and it was Atal Bihari Vajpayee who amended the law to give the family of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi the SPG cover,” he said. “Modi and Shah have undone it now.” He claimed that Modi and Shah were “blinded by personal vendetta”.

Venugopal claimed Modi and Shah have “murdered all democratic traditions” by withdrawing the SPG security cover. He said the government’s own security personnel had pointed out that the Gandhi family had received threats. Venugopal claimed security personnel had warned Rahul Gandhi during his visit to Wayanad not to go near the masses, due to the threat.

“In what circumstances did the Home Ministry decide these things?” he asked. “Usually, SPG security has been under the cabinet secretary, not the Home Ministry. But here the Home Ministry has issued the withdrawal notice. On what basis have they withdrawn? They are playing with the lives of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi.”

He claimed that there were rumours a month ago that the SPG cover would be withdrawn. “Congress party, the senior leaders including Manmohan Singh, wrote a letter to the cabinet secretary, with serious concerns,” Venugopal said, adding that they had received no response. “Without replying to that letter, now they have unilaterally withdrawn the SPG security cover...This clearly shows the cruelty of this government. They are doing politics in such a mean manner. I think the people of India can understand what type of criminal mind these people are having, through this action.”

Congress Chief Spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said former Prime Minister VP Singh had also withdrawn former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s SPG cover, and it ended with the Congress leader’s assassination.

Surjewala said the SPG itself had warned Rahul Gandhi four times between August 2018 and August this year that he faces threats from Islamist terrorists, including Al-Qaeda, Khalistani extremists as well as Naxalites. “But what happened that the reports of the SPG, Intelligence Bureau etc were changed within 60 days, and the threat no longer exists for Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi?”

Meanwhile, Congress workers protested against the withdrawal of the SPG cover outside Amit Shah’s official residence in New Delhi.

The decision

The decision to withdraw security cover was taken after an assessment by the 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.

Now, follow and debate the day’s most significant stories on Scroll Exchange.