The Gandhi family will no longer have top level Special Protection Group (SPG) cover, the government decided today, basing it on a reassessment of their threat perception. Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her children Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra will now have Z Plus category security.
"A big thank you to all my brothers and sisters in the SPG who worked tirelessly to protect me and my family over the years. Thank you for your dedication, your constant support and for a journey filled with affection and learning. It has been a privilege. All the best for a great future," Rahul Gandhi, former Congress president, tweeted.
The SPG, an elite force of 3,000, are now tasked with protecting only Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The crack force has more personnel and also offers an Advance Liaison Team that screens places that the protectees will visit.
After the news broke, Congress workers protested outside Home Minister Amit Shah's residence in Delhi and party leaders slammed "vindictive politics" on social media and TV channels.
"They are playing with the lives of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi," said a furious Congress, viewing the move as a "downgrading" of the security of the Gandhis, who have been under SPG cover since the assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi by an LTTE suicide-bomber in 1991.
"Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah are blinded by personal revenge and political vendetta in withdrawing SPG cover from Gandhis," alleged Congress leader KC Venugopal.
Government officials explained that it had been assessed during the review meeting that the threat to the Gandhi family had reduced and they no longer faced any serious security threat.
Sources close to the Gandhis say they were not informed by the government and found out from media reports.
Z Plus security means each of the Gandhis will be guarded by around 100 personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).
Defending the decision, government sources said the Gandhis "did not cooperate and impeded the smooth functioning of the SPG". They referred to instances when the family travelled in non-bulletproof cars and sat on the roof of vehicles. Rahul Gandhi was accused of not taking the SPG on 143 of 156 foreign visits since 1991 and sharing his travel plans only at the eleventh hour.
"The BJP has descended to the ultimate personal vendetta mechanism, compromising the lives of family members of two former Prime Ministers to acts of terror and violence," tweeted Ahmed Patel, a close aide of Sonia Gandhi.
The SPG was set up or the security of prime ministers and their families in 1985, a year after Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her bodyguards.
After the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi - Rahul Gandhi's father - the SPG Act was amended to provide security to former PMs and their families for 10 years.
In 2003, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led BJP government amended the law again to bring down the automatic protection for 10 years to one year - or more depending on the level of threat as decided by the centre.
The Gandhi family, after two assassinations, has always been among India's most protected politicians, apart from the Prime Minister and some former PMs.
Sources say such security reviews will be carried out every five years.
In August, the government had withdrawn former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's SPG cover.
Similar security was also withdrawn from former PMs HD Deve Gowda and VP Singh. Mr Vajpayee had SPG cover till he died in 2018.