Threat assessment and the Special Protection Group
He sits there, in a caged van, with a haunted look in his eyes, as he’s shunted from the clutches of the CBI to those of the Enforcement Directorate to Tihar Jail. He is old and frail. When panic like never before had gripped the nation after 26/11, his boss, Sonia Gandhi, moved him to the home ministry to manage things.
He overhauled the entire security apparatus of the country. A 26/11 has never ever happened again. Then Gujarat-CM Narendra Modi praised P. Chidambaram for his proactiveness. Why then are we being subject to the sad spectacle of PC as it exists today? He doesn’t need any security, certainly not of the SPG kind. He needs to be secure from those who provide him with flawless security.
It is January 1948. A bomb has gone off in the Mahatma’s prayer grounds. The same people who set off the bomb keep attending the Mahatma’s meetings unhindered. What was the threat perception to the Mahatma then? Then these same people shot the Mahatma dead. People blamed Vallabhbhai Patel for the security lapse. He became a broken man, never the same again.
The Sikh insurgency had led Indira Gandhi to storm the Golden Temple. RN Kao was the founder-director of RAW. According to B. Raman, a former RAW officer who wrote The Kaoboys of R&AW, Kao took charge of Indira’s personal security after the storming of the temple. When she was assassinated, he was disconsolate. He had misjudged the threat perception to her.
The SPG was created specifically to protect the new PM Rajiv Gandhi and his family. When he lost office in 1989, his threat perception was lowered and so was his security, first by the V.P. Singh government and then maintained at the similarly low level by the ensuing Chandra Shekhar government. Everyone knows what happened next.
U.S. presidents and their families are provided Secret Service cover their entire lives once they demit office. The decisions that they have made are so vexing to so many in the world that their lives are in constant danger and have to be protected at the highest degree by the State.
PM Manmohan Singh took many decisions after 26/11. Before him, PM I.K. Gujral is believed to have suspended any covert activity in Pakistan. Singh is thought to have revived it, making him an immediate target. His security should not be lowered from SPG cover just because there is a lowered threat assessment against him. As written earlier, threat assessment has gone wrong a number of times.
The Gandhi family continues to be in grave danger. Certainly, Sonia and Priyanka have done little to cause the SPG grief. Yes, as politicians, and especially during campaigning, they might have exposed themselves to crowds dangerously, but protecting them then is part of the SPG’s job.
The CRPF could not protect 40 of its own in Pulwama. The CRPF now provides security to the two Gandhi women as part of their now-downgraded Z+ security. So what happened recently? A bunch of gawkers drove right into Priyanka’s house and shot pictures with her. Needless to say, she obliged. But this event, instead of a seemingly happy ending, could have taken a turn far worse.
Certainly, Rahul Gandhi and Robert Vadra can be accused of playing endless hide-and-seek games with the SPG. In baseball, it’s three strikes and you are out. Rahul and Robert can be given an allowance of three major violations each. Cross them and they lose SPG cover.
But why penalize Sonia and Priyanka and her two children?
The SPG is about 4000 personnel strong. Apart from the PM, there are only two former living PMs (Singh and Deve Gowda) and then there is the Gandhi family. All of these can be easily protected by the SPG. To reserve the SPG alone for the PM’s security would be to keep much of it idle. And do you really want to dispense with such highly trained security personnel.
As noted above, threat assessments have often gone awry. Much as one may disagree with the political ideology of Singh and the Gandhi family and perhaps even the personal behaviour of Rahul, they, in the face if intense danger have served the nation, just like PM Modi is doing today.
Since 1991, mercifully there hasn’t been any political assassination in India. Long may that trend continue. Our leaders, of all stripes, are precious.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.