Official sources on Friday said the Special Protection Group (SPG) cover of the Gandhis would be withdrawn and they will now be given Z-plus security by the CRPF. After the announcement, Congress workers protested near Home Minister Amit Shah's residence here.
Congress senior spokesperson Anand Sharma said the decision to remove the SPG cover is "shocking and vindictive".
"It makes the family vulnerable. Not to forget that two members of the family former prime ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi were assassinated. The state has a duty to protect and the SPG cover was not a favour," he said.
Sharma said the UPA government never withdrew Atal Bihari Vajpayee's security cover. "It continued under Modi Government until his death," he said.
By withdrawing the SPG cover, the government is playing with the lives of the Gandhis, said senior Congress leader KC Venugopal. "Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah are blinded by personal revenge and political vendetta in withdrawing SPG cover from Gandhis," he alleged.
Senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel said, "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."
Party leader KC Venugopal said the government is playing with the lives of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi by withdrawing the SPG cover. "Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah are blinded by personal revenge and political vendetta in withdrawing SPG cover from Gandhis," he said at a press briefing here.
Hitting out at the Centre, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said the move shows the BJP's "mental bankruptcy", adding that the BJP has resorted to a very low level of vendetta politics. He demanded that Modi intervene in the matter if the decision was taken at Shah's level.
"They have resorted to very low level politics. SPG cover was given under the act of Parliament. It is for protecting the lives, what other gain is there from it? The kind of politics they are doing shows their mental bankruptcy. Prime minister should intervene if the home minister has taken the decision on his own level," said Gehlot. "If this was in the knowledge of the prime minister, then this is the misfortune of the country."
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh demanded immediate revocation of the Centre's "politically motivated" decision. He urged the central government to reconsider its decision, particularly in view of the security scenario currently prevailing in the country, with the terror threat from across the border growing every day.
Considering that Sonia Gandhi's husband Rajiv Gandhi and mother-in-law Indira Gandhi were assassinated, the grant of SPG cover to the Gandhi family was not a political favour but a necessity, Singh said.
"By withdrawing the Special Protection Group (SPG) cover of the Congress president, as well as MP Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the central government has showed extreme pettiness and a total disregard for the safety of a family that had made huge sacrifices for the country," the chief minister said.
Recalling the SPG withdrawal of former prime minister Manmohan Singh a few months ago, Amarinder Singh said neither decision was based on ground reality.
Congress leader Jaiveer Shergill also took potshots at the government over the security downgrade of the Gandhis saying, "Hope withdrawal of SPG is based on actual security risk assessment and not cheap political assessment.”
Last month #BJP Govt wanted to extend #SPG cover to Sh Rahul Gandhi travelling abroad also & now they have withdrawn it completely-what changed in 1 month?— Jaiveer Shergill (@JaiveerShergill) November 8, 2019
Hope withdrawal of #SPG is based on “actual security risk assessment” & not “cheap political assessment”
Former Union minister and Loktantrik Janata Dal patron Sharad Yadav also criticised the decision. "This is a wrong decision as two prime ministers from that family, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, were martyred under security cover. I strongly condemn this decision of the Union government," he said.
Calling it vendetta, former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan said there was no place for personal hatred in a democracy. "But the current Prime Minister considers political opponents as personal enemies. The government should have remembered that two members of the Gandhi family have been assassinated in terror attacks. But it is blinded by political vindictiveness and hatred," he said.
Congress leader Milind Deora said in a tweet, "A family that lost two members to brutal assassinations while serving India and is now leading the opposition deserves SPG protection. I have travelled with Rahul Gandhi and seen SPG professionalism first hand. Politics aside, the state is duty-bound to protect endangered persons."
The decision to withdraw the cover given to the family of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, who was assassinated by LTTE terrorists on May 21, 1991, was taken after a detailed security assessment, a senior official said.
The Gandhis will be without SPG protection after 28 years. They were included in the VVIP security list following an amendment in September 1991 in the SPG Act of 1988.
(With inputs fro PTI)