SPG ‘shadow’ withdrawn from Sonia Gandhi family

New Delhi: The elite Special Protection Group (SPG) cover given to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her children Rahul and Priyanka will be withdrawn and the family will instead be provided Z-plus security by the CRPF, officials said today.

The decision to withdraw SPG cover given to the family of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, who was assassinated by LTTE terrorists on 21 May, 1991, was taken after a detailed security assessment, a senior Home Ministry official said.

With this decision, the nearly 3,000 strong force will now only be guarding Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

An official said security cover for all VIP is reviewed periodically and recommendations are made based on threat perceptions by various security agencies in the country.

”The Sonia Gandhi family continues to have Z-plus security cover,” the official said.

Giving reasons for the decision, another official said the threat perception has reduced and the Sonia Gandhi family no longer faces serious security threats.

The Sonia family will be without SPG protection for the first time in 28 years. They were included in the VVIP security list following an amendment in September 1991 in the SPG Act of 1988.

Under Z-plus security by CRPF, they will have commandos from the paramilitary force in close proximity besides guards at their homes and where ever they travel in the country, the official said.

SPG protectees, under the rules, are provided with guards, hi-tech vehicles, jammers and an ambulance in their carcade.

In August this year, the government withdrew the SPG cover of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The SPG Act, enacted by Parliament in 1988, was initially supposed to provide security to only the Prime Minister and to the former prime ministers of the country for 10 years. In 2003, the Act was amended and the time frame of 10 years was reduced to one year.

The Act was amended after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi to include the immediate family members of former prime ministers, paving the way for Sonia Gandhi as well her children to get SPG security.

The need for a separate force for guarding the prime minister of the country was felt after then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the mother of Rajiv Gandhi, was assassinated by her security guards on October 31, 1984.

After her death, a committee was constituted to review the security of the prime minister of the country.

It recommended the formation of a Special Protection Group. In 1985, an inspector general rank officer was nominated as its first director and the organisation continued to function on an executive order for another three years.

”Modi, Shah blinded by political vendetta”

The Congress today accused the BJP government of personal vendetta and endangering the life of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, her son Rahul Gandhi and daughter Priyanka Gandhi Vadra after their SPG cover was removed.

The SPG cover for Rahul Gandhi was withdrawn and the CRPF took over the security at his residence 12, Tughlaq Lane. The CRPF had also reached Sonia Gandhi’s residence at 10, Janpath, and was working out modalities for replacing SPG.

Congress senior spokesperson Anand Sharma said the decision to remove the SPG cover for Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi is “shocking and vindictive”.

“It makes the family vulnerable. Not to forget that two members of the family former prime ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi were assassinated. The state has a duty to protect and the SPG cover was not a favour,” he said.

Sharma said the UPA government never withdrew Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s security cover. “It continued under Modi Government until his death”.

By withdrawing SPG cover, government is playing with the lives of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul and Priyanka, Cong leader K C Venugopal said.

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah are blinded by personal revenge and political vendetta in withdrawing SPG cover from Gandhis,” he alleged.

Senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel said, “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.”

The family members of Gandhi family would be provided with Z-plus security cover by the CRPF personnel, officials said.