Congress raises Rajiv Gandhi assassination in SPG Act amendment debate
The Congress on Wednesday, while arguing against the SPG Amendment Bill, said a security curtailment had led to the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
“The statement of object and reasons for the amendment states the reason for removing the SPG cover for the family members of former prime ministers is (that) ‘number of individuals providing SPG cover could potentially become quite large’. This was the same reason which was cited before the removal of the SPG cover of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi,” Tewari said in the Lok Sabha today.
The bill was passed in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday, days after he SPG cover of Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi was removed.
The amended version now allows SPG cover for the immediate family members of the former prime minister for a period of five years from demitting office if he stays in a residence allotted to him. After that period, the cover will be withdrawn.
The original act, brought in 1988 and last amended in 2003 under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, had stipulated that the family members of the former prime ministers will be given SPG cover till one year after the end of the term, but with a provision that the security cover may be extended by the government on the basis of periodic reviews.
Tewari hinted that the amendment was a politically vindictive move by the central government. He accused former Prime Minister V. P. Singh of being “politically motivated” when he withdrew the SPG cover of Rajiv Gandhi.
“Till 2019, SPG protectees were being told regularly that their threat perception is increasing. I can’t reveal the letters here for security reasons. And all of a sudden that danger vanishes, threat perception changes, and SPG is withdrawn. What changed between June 2019 and November 2019?” Tewari asked.
Earlier in the month, the Gandhis were given Z+ security. This was done after a “threat assessment”, the government said.
Replying to the questions raised by the Opposition, Union home minister home minister Amit Shah expounded on the character of the SPG, which, he said, means to protect only the Prime Minister.
“The SPG uses the term ‘special’ which only indicates that it is meant to protect only the Prime Minister,” Shah said.
“Such special groups are formed across nations, which are tasked with the security of heads of the government. For example, the United States has secret service, likewise, in France, Israel, England, there is such an arrangement which takes care of protection of the head of the government…. My aim to bring this bill is to allow SPG to become more efficient and to ensure it doesn’t suffer from any lack.”
Rebutting the charges made by the Congress, Shah said that SPG cover had become a “status symbol”. He said the Congress never cared about the security removal of other former Prime Ministers, including Chandrashekhar and P. V. Narsimha Rao.
“What are you worried about? VIP status? Leadership of the country or one family? Under the same Act, for Manmohan Singh, who was the prime minister till very recently, his security cover was downgraded. No one expressed worry. Why, is he not a former prime minister of the country?” Shah said.
He said that the SPG cover for the Gandhi family had been removed only after doing a “dynamic threat assessment” and not with a feeling of “vendetta”.