Monday, February 6, 2023
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How the SPG Act destroyed the Congress party

As the Gandhi family’s privileged security cover and lifestyle get a jolt, they may start realising the sun is setting on their empire.

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Perhaps the oldest occupant of a Lutyens’ bungalow is Sonia Gandhi. Her 10 Janpath bungalow was allotted first to Rajiv Gandhi as ex-PM in 1990, and then to her even for all the years she was in political exile, and she continues to occupy the same address that has become synonymous with power.

She has never had to move out of 10 Janpath whether her party wins or loses elections, whether she is the Congress president or not. This is unlike other Lutyens’ bungalows whose occupants frequently move in and out, as per the wishes of the people of a vast country.

In the 2015 Bihar assembly elections, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) won a good number of seats in alliance with the Janata Dal (United) and the Congress party. A member of the RJD told me then that its leader Lalu Yadav’s first thought was to get one of his family members a Rajya Sabha seat. “He doesn’t even have a place to sit in Delhi,” he said.

Lalu’s daughter Misa Bharti became a Rajya Sabha member in 2016.

If you are a politician who wants to be taken seriously, you seek to have a “sarkari bangla”, a government-owned bungalow in Delhi. If not a bungalow, even a flat will do. At least it will have a powerful-sounding address. These official residences become large offices where political deals are struck and political patronage is dispensed.

The other thing many politicians desire as part of their lifestyle is a “gunner”, a policeman with a conspicuous gun. In the Hindi heartland, the rise and fall in the political fortunes of a leader are visible through the amount of security they have. Let’s say the government of the day is threatened by a pesky ally, and it desperately needs the support of an independent MLA, the independent MLA will immediately get a “gunner”. If they already have one, they might get another. The threat perception depends upon political necessity.

And one more thing – an SUV. In Uttar Pradesh, it is said that you become a politician when you acquire an SUV.

Also read: No SPG cover, Sonia Gandhi now enters Parliament just like any other MP

Personal motivation

Sarkari residence, security guard, the right car — these are the symbols of power. When a politician goes out of power, their worst nightmare is to lose these trappings of power. From time to time we see news headlines about how former MPs, MLAs and ministers refuse to vacate their official residences, sometimes for years. The courts have quashed laws in UP and Bihar that entitle former chief ministers and deputy chief ministers to hold on to their posh bungalows.

Over time, these trappings of power become a personal motivation for politicians to win elections. No amount of money, in white or black, can get you these symbols. You can buy a car, but not a sarkari one. A humble flat in central Delhi’s South Avenue will speak more for you as a politician than a farmhouse on MG Road. This memorable account of Amar Singh leaving his Lodhi Estate bungalow will tell you what it feels like for a politician to lose their sarkari accommodation. It feels like being at the receiving end of a revolution. You have been dethroned. You are no longer king.

These trappings of power are a matter of honour. Losing them is dishonour.

Also read: Let us hope Amit Shah puts the entire opposition in jail

The sun will never set

In the case of the first family of the Congress party, the Gandhis, it is different.

The arrogance of the Congress party comes from the idea that the sun can never set on their empire. Even if they just sit home and do nothing, the people of India will turn to the Congress when they get fed up with whoever is in power. This idea is reinforced by the fact that mother, son and daughter have a posh Lutyens’ bungalow by virtue of being SPG protectees.

Through a law meant to protect their security, they made sure they will forever have the trappings of power at public expense. This includes Priyanka Gandhi, who has never held any public office. She only pays nominal rent for it.

They have, or rather had for all these years, a fleet of high-security BMW, Mercedes and Range Rover cars to travel in and an ambulance behind them, just in case. And they had the same security cover as the prime minister of India.

There may or may not be good security reasons for them to have had SPG cover for 28 continuous years. After all, the VP Singh government hadn’t extended Rajiv Gandhi the SPG cover after he lost his prime ministership, and he was assassinated. And the Congress party pointed out that to the Narendra Modi government very recently.

But that is not the point here. Even if threat perception demands SPG cover for the Gandhi family, its privileges have helped isolate them from that feeling of being dethroned. Whether they won or lost elections, it made sure little changed for them. They were still exempted from being frisked at airports and could ignore questions from the press. They have lived in the same posh Lutyens’ bungalows forever. They never get to personally experience what loss of power feels like to other politicians.

That’s how the SPG Act helped destroy the Congress party. By giving its first family the illusion that the sun will never set on the empire. Now that their SPG cover has been removed, they will be frisked at airports like commoners. Priyanka Gandhi might lose her bungalow, perhaps forcing her to get herself a Rajya Sabha seat.

Also read: Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi stripped of SPG cover, get Z-plus cover instead

Success is the best revenge

If and when Sonia Gandhi steps down as Congress president, her 10 Janpath address could be threatened. This might jolt her into realising that establishing her son’s career should not be her only priority.  There have already been hints that Rahul Gandhi may lose his 12 Tughlaq Lane bungalow for a relatively smaller one.

Both inside and outside Parliament, the Congress party is protesting the withdrawal of the SPG cover for the Gandhi family more vociferously than they are protesting about the economic slowdown, air pollution or even the incarceration of two senior Congress leaders on corruption charges.

If the only thing the Congress party cares about is the SPG privileges for the Gandhi family, then this is the thing that could jolt them out of the slumber, their meditative inaction, their unwillingness to do the job of the opposition and put the government on the mat and check its excesses.

Perhaps the Congress party is right that the Modi government’s decision is political vendetta — though the Modi government wouldn’t take the risk of doing this if security assessment demanded SPG cover. They wouldn’t want to be blamed like V.P. Singh. There’s no need to panic: the Z+ CRPF security cover is pretty elaborate and arguably offers more than the threat perception demands.

Yet, if it seems like political vendetta to the Congress, they better realise that success is the best revenge. If the Gandhi family does not want to be frisked at airports, they should stop abdicating their responsibilities as the main opposition party. They should have the hunger to fight to win every single election.

If the downgrade from Range Rovers to Tata Safaris of 2010 vintage feels like a humiliation for the Gandhi family, they should know it’s a reflection of their dwindling power. And power comes from the people. As the economy tanks and India becomes a de facto Hindu Rashtra and Kashmir remains in lockdown, the Congress party keeps perpetually postponing its promise to hold public protests.

Modi and Shah don’t think they would ever be humiliated like this because they think they will never go out of power. Why don’t Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka prove them wrong?

Views are personal.

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  1. Protective cover should be removed for all politicians and instead the money spent to provide security must be extended to members of the public who are under greater threat than any politician. Shivam is however right in pointing out that the Indian politician is basically built on the image of the UP or Bihar goon/landlord who needs gaadi, guns and guards all the time to project power over rivals or ordinary Indian citizens.

  2. Why Sonia feeels sorry, why her son must be a leader are your Bull shit. Stick to facts and write the news in a newspaper.

  3. Looked at objectively, is there need for protection to politicians? For politicians, government security is a status symbol. One who has no gun trotting security men has not “arrived there”. The politicians need protection “from the people” whom they represent as they have built their castles on the graves of many people. In UP and Bihar, under Mulayam Singh and Lallu Prasad the police had to guard even gangsters who turned politicians. About 28 years after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, when there is no perceivable threat to this family, should the tax payer continue to foot the bill for their security?

  4. Removing SPG cover for the Gandhis who have given India three most successful prime ministers and two out of them martyred for this land, is mean and petty politics to say the least. Do one have to say any thing more about the threat perception…… it’s stark and real that they live under……

  5. What tosh is this? So the reason the Gandhi’s should win elections is so that they can have SPG protection and all the paraphernalia that goes with it? What nonsense, do you get paid by the number of words? looks like you have signed a contract that mandates that you write a piece every week. So this is just to get the pay check and show that you have done some work.

  6. Brilliant article from Shivam. He should base his writing on facts and their interpretation rather than imaginations and warped logic like he did when he wrote that article on CAB! Looks like Shivam is finding his inner peace!! Of course, on the issue of withdrawal of SPG cover, there hardly anything to comment beyond saying that it is a rational, well thought out decision by the government of the day.

  7. Shivam, I wonder if this kind of article is necessitated because you are on a payroll and have to anyhow churn out articles. Some of your analysis is very good but the one like this feels like you are stretching your thinking a bit too far just to make up the numbers committed.

    You are a journalist, and for the sake of journalism, give a thought before you publish things such as this, which serve no purpose and has no meaning other than the labour of a compelled mind.

  8. Everyday new articles expose the power the Gandhis enjoyed. No wonder Sonia said power is poison. Good riddance to them.

  9. The threat perception for Shri Amit Shah cannot be less than that of the Nehrus and Vadra. In that sense, the dynasty has no real reason to complain. The campaign that Congress is doing for their leadership’s privileges exposes what the party really cares about.

  10. The sun has set on the Congress empire? Nah, I dont think so, Modi and co are a flash in the pan, Congress on the other hand will be around for a long time, unless we get viable alternatives to the grand old party.

    • You are free to dream. People of India and that includes all have realized what damage Nehru dynasty has done. Please listen to Pspendra Kulshreshtha On YouTube, who grew up among Muslims and spent 12 years in Pakistan.
      You will come to know hard truth with ample proof and those are none of RSS/BJP or affiliates.
      Another gentleman and lady are Sushil – Sunanda VashishtvKashmiri Pandit whose testimony in US congress.
      Shame on these dynast.

  11. why mr. vij, usually so clear sighted, are you blinded by anti-Gandhi-family sentiments? why waste your talent and time to write such gibberish when you are perfectly capable of insightful articles on real political issues?

  12. Shivam why do you even bother to write about Indian politics which is the theatre of the absurd? One side is tone deaf and still pretending that everything is normal. The other side is incorrigibly arrogant, as if electoral victories are an end in themselves and scheming to ‘fix’ their opponents.

    When will they wake up and smell the coffee?

  13. You are going way too far. So the Gandhi family is out of touch because of the SPG cover and now they won’t be because it has been taken away. Politics is business for politicians. All you guys who want the illiberal Modi govt. to go out, blame Gandhis for your misfortune and don’t understand that if Gandhis were in the way for Congress politicians to make money, they would have been thrown out by now. They are there because many people who do not think like you want them there. Same way as Modi and Shah are there because many people who don’t think like you want them.

  14. Think of it, the SPG has protected the Gandhis, for decades from the common reality public faces. No wonder they have lost touch with the people of India. How does one otherwise explain the inexplicable chasing of Rafale mirage when the country is in deep economic mess as lucidly explained by another Congressman, Dr Manmohan Singh? Taking to streets to protest is not for the Gandhis; that’s would be lese majeste! One upshot of withdrawing SPG could be that the Gandhis might have to face the aam aadmi, and it might just occur to them that people are facing hardship. That may jolt them into reality, though it may sound far fetched! If deprived of their entitlements, the Gandhis just might quit politics and buy an island off Costa del Sol. And that just might revive the moribund Congress party. It is best that Modi-Shah duo keep the Gandhis under protection – that way they will never pose any threat to BJP!

  15. The last paragraph reflects the perverted mind of Shivam. I don’t think Modi and Shah care much about the symbols and comforts of power. After all, they have led lives of common karyakartas for most of their lives and rose up in life through hardwork.

      • In response to your opinion, I could offer a counter opinion that the current bunch of Gandhis are suave, silent albeit lethal white collar robbers who have looted taxpayers’ money while pretending to be pro-poor.

        Even if Trump or Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn use hate speech or maintain strategic silence, they are leaders based on their merits (or demerits). Same is the case with Modi and Shah. As far as violence is concerned, why don’t you file a court case, but then do it for 1984 riots as well. Hiss!!! Hiss!!!!

        • glad to see that you are a real person with a memory and not a bot. that hurt, did it? and so the what-aboutism. dont worry, the people who are today fighting the bjp the hardest are also the people who were first to document horrors of 1984. did ONE hidutva voice speak for the Sikhs then? Crocodile tears of opportunists! Nautanki of Suvidhabadis!

          • Hatred is bad for heart. If they are hateful, so are you. Whataboutery, post-truth, fake news…terms invented by your ilk when you have just hollow opinions to present and no substantive arguments.

          • Actually, it was the RSS which worked to save Sikhs during the 1984 riots. Acknowledged by Khushwant Singh – as durbari a Sikh as one can get.

  16. Why should an ordinary parliamentarian (or MLA or even CM) be first among equals? Why should a parliamentarian not be dispensable if circumstances take a nasty turn? And if there is a fear that circumstances might take a nasty turn, then why cannot private security be arranged by the fearful individual and paid out of allowable expenses? Which progressive democracy in the world employs precious manpower as security guards to parliamentarians and senators? Let’s get rid of this VVIP culture? Such expensive arrangements should be reserved only for the PM and the President of India.

    • And all ministers, as they are under terrorist targets. SG and her family claims victimhood but it was their own creation and not for nation.

    • Modi & Shah are product of hard work and training not just parasite like these fake Gandhi.
      Gandhi’s tried hard to jail Modi but his work and people of Gujarat never allowed them. Shivan Vij is SG family Bhakta who has nothing else to offer. Why Print gives him so much space? Is congress financing The Print or any foreign funds of Gandhi family paying this media? If so definitely looted money.

  17. !! Asatyam Shivam Sadaa Sandesham !!

    Mungeri Lal ke Haseen Sapne !
    “Modi and Shah don’t think they would ever be humiliated like this because they think they will never go out of power. Why don’t Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka prove them wrong?”

    Mr. Shivam We…zzzzzz .. Have Modi & Shah ever spoke anything even remotely nearer to ‘forever clinging to power’? Stop imagining and start writing real facts.

    • That sentence had to be inserted for two reasons perhaps: (1) the pen must make a hissing sound; (2) ‘satisficing’ all types of readers, pro and anti. After all this is an opinion piece.

  18. Living by the water’s edge, one sees the ocean heave twice every day. It has seen many King Canutes sitting stubbornly on the beach. 2. On the specifics of SPG cover, what is good enough for a former two term PM should be good enough for the Gandhi family.

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