Questions are frequently raised about individual cases of security for public political figures, but definitive answers are still missing.

VIPs and security in India AP CM Naidus bullet and rocket-proof office is latest in a long listPTI/representational image
news Politics Thursday, October 13, 2016 - 19:29

According to reports, much attention has been lavished on the new office complex that Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu is occupying at the Amaravati temporary Secretariat.             

While aesthetic elements such as the installation of Italian marble floors, and state-of-the-art infrastructure have been paid attention to, security infrastructure has received a big fillip. The complex reportedly has bullet-proof cover that is apparently tough enough to even withstand attacks by rocket launchers.

Naidu’s security obsession has, of course, grown in the years since he narrowly escaped a bomb attack by Maoists at Alipiri near Tirupati, in October 2003.

And it’s not only Naidu, his Telangana counterpart K Chandrasekhar Rao last year spent Rs 5 crore from the public exchequer on a high-security Mercedes Benz bus, for touring Telangana’s districts. According to reports, the bus is reportedly bullet-proof and mine-proof, and is wifi-enabled to allow the CM to conduct government business on the move.

Criticised about the expenditure, KCR’s government reportedly defended the decision saying that the CM wanted to use a mode of transport used by the common man, and that the bus was strictly meant as a mobile work area and did not even sport a bed inside.

Again, KCR also can claim a Maoist threat existing in many parts of his state.

Meanwhile, neighbouring Tamil Nadu’s CM Jayalalithaa has, for long, had the reputation of donning a bullet-proof vest under her saree and cape, a practice she apparently began after the LTTE put her on its hit list in the 1990s for her staunch criticism of the Tamil Tigers.

In a country where two Prime Ministers have been assassinated, the security of leading political figures is certainly a serious question. Yet, over the years, the country has also witnessed the question of security become a political question, used for one-upmanship and as a means of signaling patronage.

For instance, soon after BSP supremo Mayawati lost power in Uttar Pradesh to the SP, new Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav trimmed her security detail by 300 personnel, and her 40-car fleet (with four bullet-proof vehicles) to just 10 vehicles, of which only one was bullet-proof.

While questions have been raised about whether the Dalit politician required so much protection or whether it was a mark of her status as a leader, definitive answers cannot be provided since the details of threat perception in most such cases remain concealed, only revealed to the extent that political points can be scored from the revelation one way or another.

A similar feud broke out in 2013 between the then ruling UPA government and the BJP over the question of increasing the security cover for the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. Home Minister RPN Singh had then declared that, “Security is given on threat perception, not on who is declared the Prime Ministerial candidate. I want to tell the NDA (the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance) that Rajiv Gandhi wasn't given the security of even a sub-inspector. Maybe that's why he lost his life.”

The debate over security has grown most persistent when non-political public figures have come under the burgeoning security cover in the country.

For instance, when businessman Mukesh Ambani was provided Z-category security in 2013 (involving round-the-clock protection across the country by 28 armed commandos and escort vehicles), it raised a furore with the Left parties and the AAP objecting to a businessman being provided such cover.

It was observed that Ambani had received threats from the Indian Mujahideen and the security cover was justified on the grounds that the Reliance chief would be paying for his security cover. However, some also asked why Ambani could not receive security cover when Robert Vadra received it solely on account of marrying into the Gandhi family.

Questions have also been raised about figures like Baba Ramdev being given Z-category and RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat and Muzaffarnagar riots-accused MLA Sangeet Som being given Z-plus category security by the current NDA government, especially when security was simultaneously reduced for Congress political leaders.

The Supreme Court has also asked in the past whether the public expenditure and dedication of resources for the protection of VIPs is justified. According to reports, the central government had then informed the apex court that Rs 341 crore was spent on guarding VVIPs in Delhi alone in 2012, with Rs 40 crore spent on the security in Rashtrapati Bhawan itself.

Such expenditure on VIPs, while normal policing functions are drastically understaffed, has attracted attention numerous times, particularly when the security of women in Delhi came into the spotlight following the December 16 gang rape in the capital.

Without clear information and transparent procedures for assigning security cover to public and political figures in the country, however, debates around whether such security is justified are unlikely to be resolved any time soon. 

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