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The at Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra‘s residence last week snowballed into a major controversy and reverberated in Parliament on Tuesday with an agitated opposition party describing it as a ‘matter of serious concern‘, even as Union Home Minister Amit Shah said a high-level probe has been ordered and three officers have been suspended.
Shah, replying to the debate over the Special Protection Group (Amendment) Bill, 2019 in Rajya Sabha also dubbed the breach as a ‘coincidence‘, saying such was the ‘coincidence that a Congress leader from Meerut arrived in an identical car used by Rahul Gandhi at the same time‘ the former Congress chief was expected to visit.
Expressing concern over the incident, Priyanka Gandhi‘s husband Robert Vadra said allowing unidentified people driving up to the porch of their home is a ‘very big‘ security lapse and alleged that the removal of the Gandhi family‘s SPG cover was a ‘political‘ move.
On November 26, a car drove right up to the porch near the garden at Priyanka Gandhi‘s Lodhi Estate residence and three men, three women and a girl came out of it, according to sources.
They walked up to the Congress general secretary and asked for photos to be taken with her, sources said, adding she spoke with them nicely, they took pictures with her and left.
Later, the office of Priyanka Gandhi took up the issue of security breach with the Central Reserve Police Force.
During the Zero Hour in Lok Sabha, Congress MP Anto Antony raised the issue of replacing the Special Protection Group cover of the family of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi with ‘Z-plus‘ security provided by the Central Reserve Police Force.
“If it was foolproof how did seven people barge in,” he asked.
He also urged the government to not play politics over security of the family that has lost two prime ministers in violent deaths.
Opposing the bill to amend the SPG Act in Rajya Sabha, Congress MP Vivek Tankha cited the security breach and said, “This has happened because you have reduced the security level.”
“This is not a 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 government.
“Today you have numbers (in the House) but any untoward incident happens then who would be responsible,” said Tankha.
Referring to the incident, Shah said 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.
Shah said three members of the Gandhi family have been given Z-plus top-grade security cover with ambulance and are guarded by personnel who were part of the SPG previously.
The Rajya Sabha passed the bill with 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 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.
Speaking to reporters outside Parliament, Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury alleged that his party wanted to protest over the security breach at Priyanka Gandhi‘s residence, but all ‘dissenting‘ voices were being ‘throttled‘.
“He (Shah) had said the security cover will not be less than the SPG cover and if need be, it will be more than that. So, even after the assurance by the home minister inside the House, if some security lapses happen at her (Priyanka Gandhi‘s) residence, we will protest,” Chowdhury said.
“We are ready to protest against them (government), but will not be allowed to speak. They want that not just outside, but dissenting voices are throttled even inside the House.
“Industrialists cannot say anything, RBI governor cannot say anything, if opposition leaders protest, they will have to go to jail and now, even inside Parliament if we say something, we are being throttled,” he added.
All India Congress Committee general secretary (organisation) K C Venugopal said the government should not put someone‘s life in danger for ‘settling cheap political scores‘.
‘The massive security breach at the residence of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra proves that with the withdrawal of SPG protection, (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi and Shah together have put the lives of our leaders at risk,‘ he said in a tweet.
Chandrashekhar Tyagi and his family from Meerut reportedly were the occupants of the car involved in the security breach.
His mother Sharda Tyagi told a TV channel that the family decided to call on Priyanka Gandhi because they were distraught over the downgrading of her security.
The Centre last month replaced the SPG cover of the family of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, assassinated by Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam terrorists on May 21, 1991, with ‘Z-plus‘ security provided by the CRPF.
Under ‘Z-plus‘ security, they are being protected by CRPF commandos in close proximity, besides guards at their homes and wherever they travel in the country.
To reporters‘ queries on the removal of the SPG cover, Priyanka Gandhi had earlier said, “It‘s part of politics and this keeps happening.”
The Gandhis are without SPG protection after 28 years. They were included in the VVIP security list following an amendment in the SPG Act of 1988 in September, 1991.