The Union government has now made it mandatory for Special Protection Group or SPG to accompany its protectee on their foreign trips as well. So far, SPG protectee were compulsorily shadowed only during their domestic travels. The move is likely to affect the Gandhi family most, especially Rahul Gandhi who often goes on foreign trips without informing SPG of his whereabouts.
The Cabinet Secretariat through an executive order brought about this change in September, but was disclosed today to a select group of journalists.
The Prime Minister and former prime ministers and their immediate family members are protected under the SPG Act. The SPG keeps revising its list of protectees periodically based on changing threat perceptions.
Currently, SPG protectee includes Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, and Priyanka Gandhi. The SPG therefore guards only four people. In August, the government withdrew the SPG security cover of former prime minister Manmohan Singh.
Rahul Gandhi is now on a foreign trip. The official sources said he had gone to Thailand, but now it is revealed that he was traveling in Cambodia. Senior SPG officers learnt about Rahul Gandhi’s absence from his New Delhi home from an SPG Assistant Director posted at his residence.
Recent Intelligence Bureau (IB) reports had warned of threats from LTTE and pro-Khalistani elements to Rahul Gandhi. He is also under threat from All India Sikh Forum and banned ULFA and JKLF. LTTE has long been decimated after its decisive 2009 defeat at the hands of Sri Lankan Army.
The SPG officials say they would not like to take any chances as they are responsible for protecting the VVIPs mandated by an act of Parliament. SPG officials have been complaining that Rahul Gandhi often skips the cover of elite SPG forces. He also does not inform SPG of his foreign visits which is considered a normal and routine practice.
As opposed to Rahul Gandhi, his mother Sonia Gandhi has been regularly informing SPG about her foreign visits by writing to them. The SPG commandos do not accompany her on her foreign visits as she has been mentioning that she was proceeding on a private visit and therefore do not require security.
The SPG Act was enacted by Parliament in 1985 after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. The elite force was created as the innermost ring that protects the VVIPs.
Following the fresh development, it is now mandatory for the protectee to inform SPG of his/her foreign visits and give all the details of engagements. They have also been asked to give information and details about some of their previous foreign trips.
The government may curtail the visits of the Gandhis if they refuse to adhere to the new guidelines.
The Congress high command is upset with the latest executive order on SPG. The party feels that this was infringement on the privacy of Gandhi family, especially Rahul Gandhi.
The AICC reacting to the development called it as “surveillance” of senior Congress leaders.
“Rahul Gandhi is a law-abiding citizen. He has always complied with set norms. If the SPG rules are changed to provide better security cover, Rahul Gandhi will follow the new guidelines. It’s not always possible to travel with the entire entourage. Rahul, in the past, has taken two-three SPG personnel along while travelling abroad,” said Congress leaders.
Till recently, the SPG personnel used to accompany Gandhis till the first leg of their destination. Afterwards, the SPG guards would be sent back, as Gandhis preferred privacy.
Congress spokesperson Brijesh Kalappa said security should not be intrusive.
“Rahulji travels abroad for various reasons, including to visit his grandmother who is not well. It is an exercise to find out and intrude into his private life. The Gandhis have been living with security since 1991. They are quite used to it. We are not coming in the way of the security, but it should not be intrusive,” Kalappa said.
(With inputs from Prabhakar Tamilarasu)