Cover to cover… No more ‘Under Cover’

The elite SPG security was withdrawn from the Gandhi family members; First India looks at some nitty gritties.

The Indian Special Protection Group (SPG) is “an armed force of the Union for providing proximate security to the Prime Minister of India and former Prime Ministers of India and members of their immediate families wherever in the world they are.” It was formed in 1988 by an act of the Parliament of India.

Former PMs, their immediate family members, and family members of a serving Prime Minister may, if they choose, decline SPG security.

The SPG was constituted and trained specially to provide protection to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, in view of the threats to him from several sources. But, the organization created for the proximate security of Prime Minister Gandhi, did not contemplate provision of protection to him when he ceased to be Prime Minister, and faced magnified threats. SPG cover for Rajiv Gandhi was withdrawn once he ceased to be Prime Minister. After the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991, the SPG Act was amended in 1991 to provide security to former Prime Ministers and their immediate families for a period of 10 years from the date on which the former Prime Minister ceased to hold office.

The SPG came into shape on April 8, 1985, when S Subramaniam, the then Joint Director (VIP Security) in the Intelligence Bureau took office. Creation of the SPG required an elaborate exercise in order to clearly delineate responsibility of various agencies concerned with the security of the Prime Minister (both present and former). The provisions contained in the Blue Book, which mentions guidelines for the extra cover of the Prime Minister, had to be consecutively blended with this new concept of proximate security.

The SPG functioned as a security group purely on the strength of an Executive Order for three years without a legislation, from April 1985 to June 1988.

On November 8, 2019, the Centre removed the SPG cover of the Gandhi family after they “did not co-operate with the SPG over the year and impeded the smooth functioning of SPG,” top government sources have said.

These sources gave figures and cited examples to claim that Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi “did not use SPG’s bullet-proof vehicles on numerous occasions and also did not take SPG personnel abroad during their foreign visits on a majority of their trips abroad. Priyanka Gandhi, on several occasions, even levelled several allegations against SPG officers that they were collecting her personal and confidential information and sharing with unauthorised persons and threatened the top officials of SPG to drag them into legal action, sources said. SPG has from time to time countered such allegations by clarifying that it confines its work to strictly the official charter,” government sources clarified.

According to information shared by government sources, “Rahul Gandhi, between 2005 and 2014, travelled in non-BR (bullet resistant) vehicles on 18 visits to different parts of the country and there has been around 1,892 occasions till May, 2019, when he travelled in a non-BR vehicle in Delhi, which amounts to almost one incident everyday. There have been 247 occasions when he travelled in a non-BR vehicle outside Delhi,” sources said.

Sources also said that out of total 156 foreign visits that Rahul Gandhi undertook since 1991, he did not take SPG officers along for 143 visits. “In most of these foreign visits, he shared the travel itinerary at 11th hour thus preventing(?) the SPG officers from accompanying him on the tours! Rahul Gandhi also dragged the name of SPG on a few occasions in the last 5 years in his public speeches, which is undesirable,” government sources said.

Priyanka Gandhi also used non-BR vehicles against the advice of SPG officers on these visits.

Out of the total 99 foreign visits that Priyanka Gandhi has undertaken since 1991, she took SPG security cover only on 21 occasions and refused to take the security for other 78 visits.

On most of these tours, Priyanka Gandhi shared her travel plan at the eleventh hour rendering it impossible for SPG to depute officers for her security.

She even allegedly threatened top officials of the SPG with legal action.

However, were these the reasons for which the Centre stripped the Gandhi family of SPG cover… was there any other reason? Also according to the amended act of 1991 after Rajiv Gandhi’s death, the time frame is also over. However, considering the sensitivity of the security concerns of the Gandhi family, should the government reconsider its decisions and press the elite group back into action?

-Robin Roy, Managing Editor, First India