|Priyanka Gandhi Vadra
New Delhi, May 30: Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has sought to pre-empt the Narendra Modi government by asking for the withdrawal of security exemptions that her family enjoys at airports.
The inclusion of her husband Robert Vadra’s name on the list of persons exempt from frisking had drawn widespread ridicule in the country, prompting a minister to suggest yesterday that the privilege could be reviewed.
But the request by Priyanka has left the government in a delicate situation as a decision involving her whole family carries high-risk security implications. She belongs to a family that has lost two stalwarts to assassinations, and no government will find it easy to take a decision that could be construed as a dilution.
Priyanka appears to have linked a withdrawal of the exemption to the whole family to any possible order cancelling her husband’s privilege, about which the government has not yet announced any explicit decision.
She has requested in a letter to the Special Protection Group (SPG) director that the new practice should start as soon as any government order cancelling her husband’s exemption comes into force. This raises the question whether she would press for a blanket withdrawal in case the government desists from cancelling Robert’s exemption.
In the letter to the SPG chief, Priyanka wrote: “In the light of the recent media reports with reference to the removal of my husband’s name from the list of security protectees exempt from security checks at the airport, I would like to bring to your notice that his inclusion on that list came about at the instance of your predecessors in the SPG/ Delhi police and not upon any request by either of us who were informed after the fact. It was done ostensibly to facilitate the coordination of the two separate security agencies at the airport when we travelled together.”
Priyanka, who had launched an all-out attack on Modi in the last lap of the general election and injected an element of aggression that was missing till then in the Congress campaign, said that Robert was all along in favour of getting the privilege withdrawn.
Her letter said: “Ever since then, it has been a source of constant embarrassment for my husband who has asked me on numerous occasions to have it removed as, in any case, he goes through the full security check and procedure from the normal channel every time he is travelling on his own. I had verbally conveyed this to the previous director and the AIG, SPG, in charge of my security detail on a number of occasions but no action was ever taken on it.”
Priyanka then sought to put the ball in the government’s court, taking the issue beyond her husband.
“Since the government is now reportedly considering the removal of his name, I would like to inform you that I do not feel it will be correct for my children and me to avail of the facility of exemption of these checks while entering or exiting the airport when we are all travelling together. It is only right for us to go through the normal channel at the airport and be frisked etc. as per normal procedure at such times as you will appreciate that it makes no sense for a family travelling together to fall under different categories of exemption.”
She added: “I would also request you to ensure that when we are entering or exiting the boarding gates, there is no disturbance to other passengers.”
SPG director Durga Prasad Kode said tonight that he had not yet received any intimation.
Kode said an individual could seek the withdrawal of security but the decision would be taken on the basis of an assessment of the threat perception. “SPG protection is not given on demand or withdrawn on request,” he added.
Yesterday, asked whether Vadra would continue to be on the VIP list, civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju had said: “Security should be meaningful and not ornamental. It will depend on whether the home ministry feels there is a threat perception, and I am not talking about Vadra, we’ll have to see.”
The Congress had said earlier today that security should not be politicised and should be left to professional agencies that assess threat perceptions.
Party spokesperson Shashi Tharoor said in response to a question: “We have always believed that security is a matter which should always be left to security agencies.”