New Delhi: The Special Protection Group (SPG) cover given to Gandhis, including Congress Interim President Sonia and her children, has been withdrawn and they will now get ‘Z plus’ security provided by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), officials said on Friday.
The SPG security will be withdrawn from the New Delhi residences of Sonia, her son Rahul and daughter Priyanka Gandhi Vadra after the CRPF takes over the responsibility, a Home Ministry official said.
Sources said the government’s decision has been conveyed to the Gandhi family, but the people close to the family said they have not been informed. The decision is set to become a huge political flashpoint, with Congress leaders perceiving the move as “downgrading” of the security of the Gandhis, who have been enjoying the SPG cover since the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on May 21, 1991.
The decision to withdraw SPG security, the country’s highest grade of protection, was taken after a review involving the Cabinet Secretariat and the Ministry of Home Affairs with inputs from various intelligence agencies, officials said.
In the wake of the latest decision, the top security cover will now be given only to the Prime Minister.
The ‘Z plus’ security means the Gandhis will be guarded by around 100 CRPF personnel. According to procedures laid down by the SPG Act, 1988, Gandhis’ SPG security cover was renewed annually after a review of threats faced by them.
The SPG was set up in 1985 after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984.
Parliament passed the SPG Act in 1988, dedicating the group to protecting the Prime Minister. At the time, the Act did not include former Prime Ministers.
When V.P. Singh came to power in 1989, his government withdrew SPG protection given to his predecessor Rajiv Gandhi. In 2003, the Vajpayee government again amended the SPG Act to bring the period of automatic protection down from 10 years to “a period of one year from the date on which the former prime minister ceased to hold office” and beyond one year based on the level of threat as decided by the government.
In August, the Centre had also withdrawn SPG protection given to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur and they were accorded ‘Z plus’ security of CRPF.