New Delhi: Parliament on Tuesday passed a bill to provide the elite Special Protection Group (SPG) security only to the prime minister and for a restricted period to ex-PMs, with Home Minister Amit Shah rejecting the opposition's charge of political vendetta and asserting the government was concerned about security of all 130 crore Indians and not just the Gandhi family.
The Congress, which alleged that the law governing the SPG was being changed to target the Gandhi family and will imperil the life of its leaders, expressed dissatisfaction with Shah's reply and staged a walkout along with some other opposition parties as the SPG (Amendment) Bill was passed by voice vote in Rajya Sabha on Tuesday
On November 27, Lok Sabha had passed the bill under which SPG cover will be provided only to the prime minister and members of his immediate family residing with him at his official residence and any former PM and members of his immediate family "residing with him at the residence allotted to him for a period of five years from the date he ceases to hold the office of Prime Minister".
Replying to a debate on the Bill, Shah said that the BJP does not carry out any action with a vindictive approach and it was the Congress that took many such decisions in the past.
He said earlier four amendments in the SPG Act were done focusing on one family. Shah said no discussion happened when security cover reviews of former prime ministers including PV Narasimha Rao, IK Gujral, Chandra Shekhar, HD Deve Gowda and recently Manmohan Singh were undertaken.
"Security cover must not be treated as a status symbol by individuals. The SPG security cover is meant specifically for the prime minister and must not be enjoyed by any other individual," he said.
The Congress, which criticised the amendment, walked out of Rajya Sabha saying it is dissatisfied with the Home Minister's reply on the amendment to the SPG Act. Besides some members of CPI and DMK also left the House during voting on the bill.
Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said, "We are not satisfied with the reply of the minister and walk out."
Earlier, participating in the debate, Congress MP Vivek Tankha raised the issue of the security breach at Priyanka Gandhi Vadra's residence and said there should not be "party politics" on it.
"This has happened because you have reduced the security level," he alleged.
Reminding the House about the fateful incidents in which Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi were killed, he said, "Please protect this family. God forbid if one more fatal incident happens then who would take blame of it?"
"This is not party politics. Rise over it," he said and reminded the House that even former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was provided security with dignity by the previous Congress-led governments.
The government, Shah said in his reply, takes the decision of providing security cover on scientific threat analysis for a particular individual.
On the security breach at the residence of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, he said it was a "coincidence" as the security was informed that her brother Rahul Gandhi would be visiting her in a black 'Tata Safari' SUV. But instead of him some Congress workers from Meerut in Uttar Pradesh came in a similar vehicle and so were allowed in the house.
He said a high-level inquiry has been ordered into the security breach and three personnel have been suspended.
He also told the House that members of Gandhi family have been provided CRPF's Z plus security with advance security liaison (ASL) and ambulance, which is highest rated in its category and are guarded by personnel who were part of SPG previously.
Shah said if anyone it was Narendra Modi who will be impacted by this amendment as cover will be withdrawn after five years of his ceasing to be the prime minister.
The minister explained that this bill has no connection with the Gandhi family's SPG cover as their SPG cover was withdrawn on the basis of threat assessment before bringing the draft law in the House.
He said, "In our Constitution, Prime Minister is head of the state who requires SPG security. But not after the Prime Minister steps down."
"Why only Gandhi family should be provided security. We are responsible for the security of all 130 crore Indians in the country," he said.
"This is wrong to claim that only SPG cover is required for Gandhi family and why should one family get this? The SPG is for the head of the state only. There is no motive... This Act would affect only Prime Minister Narendra Modi because the SPG cover would be withdrawn on completion of his five-year term. We believe in equality," he said.
He also said that when SPG cover for former prime minister Manmohan Singh was withdrawn, the Congress did not protest in the same fashion.
Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad, however, intervened saying, "We have written a letter to protest against this matter."
To this, Shah retorted, "There is a difference between a formality and a protest. Are we living in a democracy or middle age. Law is equal for all. We are not protesting against a family. We are protesting against nepotism. Democracy will not run on nepotism."
On the Justice Verma Committee report on Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, Shah said that the panel had said that SPG cover of Rajiv Gandhi was withdrawn without providing adequate security.
He said, "We have not provided for threat assessment review of prime minister in the bill. If he steps down as Prime Minister the SPG cover will be withdrawn. "
Replying to the Left's charge of BJP acting with a political vendetta, Shah said 120 workers of BJP and RSS have been killed in Kerala which is ruled by the Left Democratic Front.
Shah's wife and sister were present in the gallery during his reply.
BJP MP Neeraj Shekhar, who himself was an SPG protectee for 11 years being the son for former prime minister Chandra Shekhar, said there was no need for such a cover for the family of ex-prime ministers.
"We are spending money on this, which is not needed," he said adding that all previous amendments extending SPG security to former PMs' families were wrong.
However, he suggested former PMs and their families should be protected by raising another force.
AAP member Sanjay Singh and Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Ramdas Athawale also participated in the debate on the bill.