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Thursday, Dec 12, 2019

Parliament amends SPG Act, government denies vendetta

The bill, passed by the Lok Sabha last week, received the Rajya Sabha’s approval after a fierce debate in which Congress members accused the government of not being sensitive to the security needs of the Gandhi family. They asked the government to rise above party politics.

india Updated: Dec 04, 2019 06:24 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Union Home Minister Amit Shah speaks in the Rajya Sabha during the ongoing Winter Session of Parliament, in New Delhi, Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019.  Shah emphatically rejected the charge that political vendetta was the driving force behind amending the SPG bill.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah speaks in the Rajya Sabha during the ongoing Winter Session of Parliament, in New Delhi, Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019. Shah emphatically rejected the charge that political vendetta was the driving force behind amending the SPG bill. (PTI)
         

Parliament on Tuesday approved the Special Protection Group (SPG) bill that will ensure the elite security will guard only the prime minister, family members residing with him or her and former PMs for a limited duration after they demit office.

The bill, passed by the Lok Sabha last week, received the Rajya Sabha’s approval after a fierce debate in which Congress members accused the government of not being sensitive to the security needs of the Gandhi family. They asked the government to rise above party politics.

Home minister Amit Shah emphatically rejected the charge that political vendetta was the driving force behind the legislation. He questioned the Congress’s insistence on SPG cover for its leaders Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and assured the party that the government would in any case provide members of the Gandhi family with foolproof security.

The bill was passed by a voice vote amid a Congress walkout.

The bill provides that the SPG cover will be provided only to the prime minister and members of his or her immediate family residing at his official residence.Former PMs and members of their families would be provided SPG cover for a period of five years after demitting office.

The Upper House launched into a debate in which Congress member Vivek Tankha raised an alleged breach of security at Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s residence to emphasise the security needs of the party leaders.

“This has happened because you have reduced the security level,” he alleged.

There should be no party politics over providing security, Tankha said and pointed to the assassinations of former prime ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi to emphasise the need for providing adequate security to Congress leaders.

“Please protect this family. God forbid, if one more fatal incident happens then who would take blame of it?This is not party politics. Rise over it,” he said and reminded the House that even former Prime Mnister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had been provided security with dignity by the previous Congress-led governments.

An equally impassioned plea was made by senior Congress leader BK Hariprasad. The party’s leaders face a constant threat from communal forces, he asserted. He suggested that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) did not seem sensitive to the demand because it had not experienced pain like the Congress had when it lost its assassinated leaders.

Referring to the allegation that Congress president Rahul Gandhi did not travel in his assigned vehicle, Hariprasad said this was out of compulsion because often the vehicles were too slow. Hariprasad said Congress workers were always ready to protect their leaders by acting as the “Congress Reserve Protection Force” even as he asked the ruling dispensation to reconsider the move.

Replying to the debate, Shah said the BJP did not take any action with a vindictive approach, saying it was the Congress that had taken such decisions in the past.

He claimed that the earlier four amendments in the SPG Act were focused on only one family. No discussion happened when security cover reviews of former prime ministers including PV Narasimha Rao, IK Gujral, Chandra Shekhar, HD Deve Gowda and recently Manmohan Singh were undertaken, he said.

When Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said he had written a letter on the issue of Manmohan Singh’s security, Shah retorted that there was a difference between a mere formality and actual action. He said he hadn’t seen such passion at the time.

“Security cover must not be treated as a status symbol by individuals. The SPG security cover is meant specifically for the prime minister and must not be enjoyed by any other individual,” he said.

Shah said if anyone is affected by the legislation, it would be Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who will lose his SPG cover after five years of ceasing to be the prime minister, if such a situation arises.

He said there was no need to bring a bill if the intention was to remove the SPG cover for the Gandhi family. Their SPG cover had already been withdrawn on the basis of a threat assessment before the draft law was introduced in Parliament, he said.

“It is wrong to claim that only SPG cover is required for the Gandhi family. Why should one family get this? The SPG is for head of the state only. There is no motive... This Act would affect only Prime Minister Narendra Modi because the SPG cover would be withdrawn on completion of his five-year term. We believe in equality,” the home minister said.

“We are responsible for security of all 130 crore Indians in the country,” he said.

“Law is equal for all,” he said.

On the justice JS Verma commission’s report on Rajiv Gandhi’s May 1991 assassination, Shah said the panel had said that SPG cover for the late former prime minister had been withdrawn without providing him adequate security. This is not the case here, he added.

“We have not provided for threat assessment review of prime minister in the bill. If he steps down as Prime Minister the SPG cover will be withdrawn (after five years). “

Replying to the Left’s charge of the BJP acting out of political vendetta, Shah said 120 workers of the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), its ideological mentor, have been killed in Kerala, which is ruled by the Left Democratic Front. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has no moral ground to allege vendetta, he said.

Shah’s wife and sister were present in the gallery during his reply.

BJP MP Neeraj Shekhar, who himself was a SPG protectee for 11 years, being the son for former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar, said there was no need for SPG cover for the families of ex-prime ministers.

Naresh Gujral, son of former prime minister IK Gujral, said protection often became an invasion of privacy.

“We are spending money on this, which is not needed,” he said adding that all previous amendments extending SPG security to former PMs’ families were wrong.

The BJP’s GVL Narasimha Rao said that while Prime Minister Modi had led the opposition to jihadi terrorism and Maoist rebels and faced many threats, the Congress party sympathised with such elements.