New Delhi: 

Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her children Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra will no longer have top level Special Protection Group (SPG) cover, the government decided today. The Gandhis will now have Z plus category protection.

Congress workers protested outside Home Minister Amit Shah’s residence in Delhi against the decision.

“They are playing with the lives of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi. On what basis did they do this,” 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 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 the decision was taken after an assessment that the threat perception has reduced and the Gandhi family no longer faced any serious security threat.

Sources close to the Gandhis say they were not informed 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).

The decision was taken after a security review recently, said government sources. Government sources referred to instances when the Gandhis “did not cooperate and impeded the smooth functioning of the SPG”. They referred to instances when the family travelled in non-bullet resistant 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 SPG, an elite force of 3,000, are now tasked with protecting only Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“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, 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, which has seen the assassination of two members, has always been among India’s most protected, apart from the Prime Minister and a select few.

But government sources say the big move to withdraw SPG to the family is part of a review that 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.

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