The Gandhi family will no longer have Special Protection Group (SPG) cover, home ministry sources said today, in a decision that is set to become a political flashpoint. Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who have been protected by SPG forces since the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, will now have Z Plus category protection. Sources close to the family say they only found out about the downgrade via media reports.
Government sources have said the move comes after a recent review of security details. The 3,000-strong SPG will now only protect Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The sources also claimed that multiple violations by the three Gandhi leaders had led to the protection being pulled. The Gandhis "did not cooperate and impeded the smooth functioning of the SPG", sources said.
According to sources, between 2015 and May 2019, Rahul Gandhi spurned the use of bullet-resistant vehicles on 1,892 times in Delhi alone. Sources claim this amounts to one such incident almost every day. There have also been nearly 250 incidents of non-bullet proof vehicles being used for travel outside Delhi.
Government sources highlighted one such incident that happened in Gujarat in 2017.
"While he was travelling in a non-BR (bullet resistant) car, against security advice of SPG, there was an incident of stone pelting on non-BR private car of the protectee, in which the SPG PSO was injured," sources said.
Similar claims have been made about Sonia Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, with the two reportedly using non-bullet proof vehicles on 389 occasions in the same period.
Government sources also flagged violations during Rahul Gandhi's foreign trips.
"Out of total 156 foreign visits that he undertook since 1991, he did not take SPG officers on 143 visits. In most of these 143 foreign visits he shared the travel itinerary at eleventh hours preventing the SPG officers from accompanying him on the tours," sources said.
The SPG was set up in 1985, a year after former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her bodyguards. After Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, the SPG Act was amended to provide security to former Prime Ministers and their families for 10 years.
In 2003, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led BJP government amended the law again to bring the period of automatic protection from 10 years to one; this could be revised depending on threat levels.
The Gandhi family, which has seen the assassination of two of its members, has always been among India's most protected, apart from the Prime Minister and a select few.
In August, the government withdrew former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's SPG cover. Similar security was also withdrawn from two other former Prime Ministers HD Deve Gowda and VP Singh.
BJP leader and former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had SPG cover till he died in 2018.