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Security swipe at Priyanka

Priyanka

New Delhi, June 2: Junior home minister Kiren Rijiju today wondered why Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was trying to “politicise security issues”, days after she sought to pre-empt the BJP-led regime by requesting that the exemptions from checks her family enjoys at airports be withdrawn.

Rijiju’s contention came on a day CISF officials claimed the exemption Priyanka’s husband Robert Vadra enjoys from frisking related only to “privilege” and had nothing to do with security.

Rijiju didn’t name Priyanka but left no doubt whom he was referring to. “One should not politicise security issues. I have failed to understand why someone is trying to score a political brownie point. Security does not depend on the whims and fancies of any individual,” he said.

In a letter to the Special Protection Group director on Friday, Priyanka had asked for the withdrawal of the security exemptions for her whole family, linking it to any possible order cancelling her husband’s privilege.

The request had come a day after civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju had seemed to suggest that the privilege Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law enjoys could be reviewed, although the government has not yet announced any explicit decision.

Robert is now exempt from “pre-embarkation security checks” while travelling with his wife, Sonia or Rahul Gandhi, who are under SPG cover.

“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,” Priyanka said in her letter.

“It is only right for us to go through the normal channel at airports 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.”

If Priyanka sought to put the ball in the government’s court, Rijiju stressed on the security angle. “It is better to leave to the security agencies to take a decision,” he told reporters.

A senior official with the CISF, the force in charge of security arrangements at airports, said exemption from frisking “should not be confused” with security. “It has become a status symbol. India is one of the few countries in the world to have a list of VIPs exempt from security checks at airports.”

The CISF is under the direct control of the Union home ministry.

“He (Robert) is the only civilian who is not frisked at airports when he is accompanied by his wife, Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi. But he is frisked when he is travelling alone,” the official added.

Robert’s inclusion in the list of VIPs exempt from frisking had drawn widespread ridicule and prompted “hundreds” of RTI queries, the official said. “We keep forwarding those queries to the home and civil aviation ministries.”

One RTI application said Robert’s inclusion in the VIP list defied logic. “It is shocking that among the list Vadra is the only name while others in the list are defined by their ranks and posts like the Prime Minister of India,” said Aditya Kaul, a businessman from Bangalore.

“Going by the same logic relatives of other SPG protectees should also be given the same privilege. Why have the rules been bent for one damadji (son-in-law) in the country?” wrote Sumit R. Bhatnagar, an IT professional from Pune.

A home ministry official said the reason for Robert’s special treatment was obvious. “Hope better sense prevails now.”

The 28 posts and individuals now exempt from security checks, apart from Sonia, her family and Robert, include the President, Vice-President, Prime Minister and cabinet ministers, former Presidents, Lok Sabha Speaker, chief ministers, chief justices of the Supreme Court and high courts, the Union cabinet secretary and the Dalai Lama.