- SPG protection rules had been "diluted" by past governments: Amit Shah
- "Don't make me take names," Mr Shah said
- Amit Shah's comments were seen to target businessman Robert Vadra
Defending the decision to remove Special Protection Group (SPG) cover to the Gandhis, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said in parliament Wednesday that a "vindictive approach" was not the BJP's ethic but that of the Congress. The rules of SPG protection, meant for the top leader of the country, had been "diluted" by past governments for one family, he said.
"Don't make me take names but someone rides around at 100 km/hour speed in Lutyen's Delhi and security gets left behind. Then no one cares about security," Amit Shah said in the Lok Sabha, where the Congress accused the government of targeting their president Sonia Gandhi and her children Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra for political reasons. He did not name anyone but his comments were seen to target Rahul Gandhi.
The Home Minister was responding to Congress MP Manish Tiwari's comment: "Such issues should be kept above party biases. Just because someone no longer remains Prime Minister doesn't mean that the threat to them reduces."
Mr Shah alleged that the Gandhis had been on "several trips" without informing the SPG. "Instances like this have happened about 600 times. What was the secret? Look at Rajnath (Singh) ji, for many years security personnel even dropped him till the toilet, yet he never said anything," said Mr Shah, the camera showing the Defence Minister smiling right next to him.
Security for the Gandhis had "not been removed but replaced," said the Home Minister on the move to revise the security of the country's most protected family to the Z plus category. No one uttered a word, he said, when a similar step was taken for other former PMs, Chandra Shekhar, IK Gujral and Manmohan Singh.
Accusing the Congress of treating SPG cover like a "status symbol", Amit Shah held up Prime Minster Narendra Modi as an example.
"The PM started the trend of taking less than 20 people on his foreign trips. He has stopped the trend of petrol hops and uses public property whenever possible. He has followed this difficult lifestyle even after becoming the Prime Minister," said the minister.
"An impression is being created that the SPG Act is amended to withdraw security from the Gandhi family. Security of the Gandhi family has not been withdrawn but changed to 'Z-plus' with advance security liaison and ambulance that will be given across the country," he said.
Mr Shah also accused the Gandhis of refusing to meet a top officer tasked with explaining why they would no longer be SPG protectees.
The elite unit was raised for protecting only the prime minister and amendments brought in by the government would restore its original intent, said Mr Shah.
"The term 'special' indicates its special purpose. Many countries have such elite and compact cover exclusively for their heads of state. There is a misconception that the SPG is only about physical protection. It is not just physical security but also about covering the prime minister''s office, his health and communications," he said.
He said the SPG was formed after the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi on the 1985 recommendations of the Birbal Nath committee and a law was enacted in 1988. Amendments were brought in 1991, 1994, 1999 and 2003, which diluted its purpose, Mr Shah said.
One of these amendments brought the family members of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi -- Sonia Gandhi, Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi -- under the SPG cover.
The government wants to change the law so that the SPG will protect only the Prime Minister and members of his immediate family living with him at his official residence. It will also provide security to former prime ministers and their immediate family members living with him for five years after they step down.
SPG, a crack commando force, comes with armoured vehicles, 24-hour protection at home and an Advance Liaison Team that screens places that the protectees will visit. The Gandhis are now guarded by far less security personnel and the Delhi Police. The Gandhis have been assigned Tata Safaris of 2010 vintage, instead of the Range Rovers and Fortuner that they were using.