NEW DELHI: The Gandhis—Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka—may lose their Special Protection Group (SPG) cover if the Centre accepts the recommendation of the intelligence agencies, which after the assessment of the threat perception to them, are of the view that “Z plus” security should, given their context, suffice. However, it would be a difficult decision to make since 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.
At present, only Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the three Gandhis are recipients of proximate security by SPG personnel. The agencies have concluded, while evaluating the danger posed to the Gandhis, that their safety would be ensured by replacing the SPG with “Z plus”, the gradation accorded to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, top BJP leaders L.K. Advani and Murali Manohar Joshi, as well as Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.
Significantly, a rarely employed category of “Z special” has been extended to Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
The Centre had recently decided that the Gandhis on their overseas trips, would be accompanied by the members of the SPG elite squad. It would now be mandatory for the Gandhis to furnish every minute detail of their schedule to the SPG so that it could accordingly deploy its staff to escort them. Prior to this, the practice was that the SPG officials would fly back home, once any of the Gandhis reached their first location out of the country. The fresh arrangement is being criticised by several senior leaders of the Congress party, who allege that it was a ploy of the government to keep surveillance on the Gandhis, as well as to infringe on their right to privacy. However, since the security of the family is at stake, the issue was not blown out of proportion
The scaling down of the security gradation would not deprive the Gandhis of adequate safeguarding arrangements since all those who are “Z plus” protectees are protected round-the-clock by handpicked officers of the state police, intelligence agencies and paramilitary organisations. For instance, Dr Manmohan Singh, has at all hours, guards at his Moti Lal Nehru Place official bungalow, and when he steps out, his convoy has escorts and security vehicles flanking the car in which he is travelling. Same is the case for L.K. Advani, M.M. Joshi and Rajnath Singh, as well as also several Chief Ministers of various states.
The threat apprehension to individuals is annually evaluated and based on the appraisal arrangements for security are put into motion. This appraisement is put together by experts from various intelligence agencies, who put forth their recommendations to the Home Ministry and the Cabinet Secretariat, where the final decision is taken after due consultation with political bosses. The SPG Act is only applicable to the Prime Minister and former Prime Ministers and their families. While it is non-negotiable for the serving PM, the decision regarding others is taken on the basis of valuation and the degree of peril perception.
The SPG Act was first amended after the gory assassination of Rajiv Gandhi at Sriperumbudur on 21 May 1991. There was a view in the security establishment that had the SPG not been withdrawn by the V.P. Singh government, he would not have died in the manner in which he did. The amendment initiated by the P.V. Narasimha Rao government, subsequently entailed extending the cover to the families of former Prime Ministers as well.
Soon after Rajiv’s killing, Sonia Gandhi was most apprehensive of the security provided to her, so much so that she felt safer being protected by private guards engaged by family well wishers till the SPG cover was extended to her and her son and daughter.