The recent decision of downgrading the security cover given to members of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s family has been met with fierce opposition from the members of Congress party following a verbal battle in the Parliament.
The government subsequently introduced the Special Protection Group (Amendment) Act and it is now being debated in the Parliament.
The granting of security cover or stripping off the same is always a matter of political controversy in a country like India which does not have a witness protection program owing to a deficiency of funds and shortage of manpower. Controversy erupted in the recent past when security cover provided to former Union Ministers Manish Tiwari and Salman Khurshid was completely done away with and that of former Deputy Home Minister RPN Singh downgraded to Y Category. Similarly, controversy kick-started when the UPA government granted CRPF protection to business tycoon Mukesh Ambani.
Security cover is generally granted to public figures or politically important persons who have a threat from assault, kidnapping, assassination, harassment, loss of confidential information and other criminal offences. The decision to give security cover or to modify it or to strip it is taken by the Protection Review Group headed by the Union Home Secretary and has officers from the Intelligence Bureau on board. Another committee performing a similar function is the Security Categorisation Committee.
The brutal assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984 at her Safdurjung Road residence by members of her own security was a shocker for everyone in India’s security establishment. Her successor and new Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and his immediate family were shifted to high-security Red Fort, which then was an Indian Army garrison and only subsequently the group of Bungalows at Race Course Road located north of Air Force Station, New Delhi was identified.
Proximate or Inner Ring security of the Prime Minister, who is the Head of Government, was entrusted to a specially set-up force named Special Protection Group (SPG), which comprised of members from both state and central armed police forces. Future CRPF Chief K Vijayakumar and others were amongst the first batch of SPG officers deputed to guard PM Rajiv Gandhi and his family. The fact that got overshadowed was that back in 1985 till date, Prime Minister and other SPG protectee’s office and residence are protected by an elite CRPF unit based out of South Delhi.
The loss of SPG protection is about the loss of facilities and privileges. The protectee is entitled to use ballistic resistant British and German cars; entry to parliament from a special gate, frisk free access to airports, entering SPG protected areas in cars without vehicle interchange etc. I think the whole issue is politics and nothing to do with concern for one’s security.
Politics aside, our basic issue lies in the fact that we have a lack of idea as to who will protect whom. The CRPF was created to assist state governments in maintaining law and order and for counter-insurgency duties. The CRPF’s anti-Naxal elite unit COBRA raised complaints that their bulletproof vehicles were drawn off for VIP security.
In fact, the CISF was created to protect high-value industries of Government of India. They are also trained hard for VIP security duties. CRPF protectees include MK Stalin of DMK and the man in the controversy Union Home Minister Amit Shah himself. On the other hand, CISF protects NSA Ajit Doval and RSS’s Mohan Bhagwat.
The Kargil Review Committee set up the post-Kargil War recommended ‘One Border, One Force.’ Similarly, the government has to decide that VIP protection shall be the sole responsibility of one force. In order to remove politics from security, the Protection Review Group and Security Categorisation Committee should be headed by a non-political independent outsider, say like a former/sitting Judge of the Supreme Court.
About the author: Nebil Nizar is an Advocate at Supreme Court of India. He is a security analyst and a Middle East observer. He also happened to be caught in a crossfire during an Al-Qaeda attack in 2006.