Confusion over SPG cover for Gandhis, ally cries foul

Updated on Oct 08, 2019 06:04 AM IST

A report in the English weekly Sunday Guardian said that the Gandhis had been told that SPG personnel would mandatorily accompany them at all times during foreign travels, and that any departure from these norms could lead to a possible curtailment on their private foreign visits over security concerns.

The government on Monday declined to comment on a report that the operating norms of the elite security force were being modified in relation with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, senior party leader Rahul Gandhi, and party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.(ANI)
The government on Monday declined to comment on a report that the operating norms of the elite security force were being modified in relation with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, senior party leader Rahul Gandhi, and party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.(ANI)
New Delhi | ByHT Correspondents

One of the Congress’s closest allies, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), described a reported move by the Centre to alter the terms of the special protection group (SPG) cover extended to members of the Gandhi family as an “infringement on their privacy” and an attempt to “keep surveillance on them” even as confusion reigned over the decision.

The government on Monday declined to comment on a report that the operating norms of the elite security force were being modified in relation with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, senior party leader Rahul Gandhi, and party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.

A report in the English weekly Sunday Guardian said that the Gandhis had been told that SPG personnel would mandatorily accompany them at all times during foreign travels, and that any departure from these norms could lead to a possible curtailment on their private foreign visits over security concerns.

But conflicting information on Monday seemed to suggest that the Gandhis were told their SPG cover would be withdrawn if they did not comply with the modified norms. A third version, given by a senior officer of the Union home ministry, suggested that a government review of the Gandhis’ security cover had recommended removal of SPG protection and giving the duty to either the National Security Guard or the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).

“Threat perception of each of those protected by the SPG is reviewed every year. The current review indicates a reduced threat perception for the Gandhis and their security can be handled by other forces,” the senior officer said, adding that no new threats were found in the assessment.

The Congress largely steered clear of the issue but party spokesperson Pranav Jha indicated that the Gandhi family had received no official communication on the matter.

“Since this is a matter relating to security, we will not offer any comment based on a news report that appeared in a newspaper. We will respond as and when our leaders receive any official communication from the government in this regard,” Jha said.

But NCP leader Majeed Memon said such a move would amount to a violation of privacy.

“The decision, in no way, seems to have been mooted with the intention of providing security to the Gandhis. It seems to be an infringement of their privacy with an intent to keep a surveillance on them. This is also in a way a violation of fundamental right to freedom of movement and can be challenged,” Memon said.

The SPG was raised in 1985 after the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to protect the PM and their immediate family members. Former prime ministers and their family members were brought under the SPG cover after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, but the rule was changed in 2003 and the cover was to be extended following annual reviews.

In August, the security detail of former prime minister Manmohan Singh, who was under SPG cover until then, was changed after a security review showed reduced threat perception. The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) now protects him as a Z+ protectee, one of the highest levels of security.

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