Following a walkout by Congress members, the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday passed the SPG (Amendment) Bill that limits SPG protection only to the Prime Minister and his family and to a former PM and his family for five years. Replying to the concerns raised by members, Home Minister Amit Shah denied that the Bill had any relation to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi and Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi, and described as “chance” the alleged security breach at Priyanka’s residence.
Even as MPs from the Congress and some other parties decried the move to take away the Gandhis’ SPG protection, citing the assassinations of former PMs Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, Shah said that security should not be treated as a “status symbol”.
“Their security is the highest for any citizen, Z+ with advance security liaison (ASL) and ambulance. It is the same security that is available to the home minister, the President and Vice-President… I have to emphasise that contrary to statements made in the House, this amendment has not been done with one family in mind, that was the case with all the other four amendments before this. We are mindful of their security and have made adequate arrangements,” Shah said.
In fact, he said, the only “loser” in this Bill is the Prime Minister, who will lose SPG cover in five years if he does not remain at the top post. “Had we meant to have special provisions, we would have written that his threat perception will be reviewed after five years. We did not do that,” he added. He also said that since SPG protection for the Gandhis has already been discontinued, the Bill was not needed for that purpose.
Several members from the Congress and other parties raised the issue of security breach at Priyanka’s residence. Shah clarified that as per protocol under which Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka’s husband Robert Vadra and other members of the family are not subjected to the usual security drill, the security personnel had let through a black Tata Safari following information that Rahul would be visiting. It turned out to be a Congress office-bearer from Meerut in the car. “What happened that day was ittefaq (chance), but we have taken cognizance of it, ordered an inquiry and suspended three people. But if you were really concerned about their security, you would have not made such a public hue and cry. Because these protocols are not to be discussed in public,” Shah said.
He also pointed out that there had been little protest when security for former PM Manmohan Singh was withdrawn. At this, Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad showed the letter he had written to the PM and the reply. “There is a difference between formality and protest,” Shah retorted.
Speaking on the Bill, SP MP Ramgopal Yadav pointed out how “threat perception” for security to politicians changes with dispensations and spoke about how an alleged criminal whose phone interception had revealed a plot to murder him was killed in a police encounter. “He had a reward of Rs 3 lakh on him and he wanted to kill me and it was our government. He could not have survived. Within 15 days he was killed in an encounter by Sikandrabad police. This is the only remedy for criminals,” Yadav said.
BJP MP Neeraj Shekhar recalled his experience of living as an SPG protectee for 11 years (as son of former PM Chandra Shekhar), starting when he was a 22-year-old “nobody” but the sheer paraphernalia made him feel “important.”
Many parties including the JD(U), BJD and AIADMK supported the Bill even as Left parties and the RJD joined the Congress in opposing it. MPs opposing the Bill said that politics should not come in the way of security.
Later, the House passed the Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu (Merger of Union Territories) Bill 2019.