|CURRENT ISSUE AUGUST 09, 2004|
|nation THREAT ANALYSIS|
Pretty soon, you may not be able to get near Shah Rukh Khan or Sachin Tendulkar to get their autographs. The Home Ministry is planning to upgrade them to Z-plus category, the cover given to the prime minister, Sonia Gandhi and others who are considered at maximum risk. Actor Aishwarya Rai and cricketers Irfan Pathan and Rahul Dravid also could be surrounded by grim-looking commandos soon. These are some of the recommendations being considered by the committee under Home Minister Shivraj Patil to review the security provided to VIPs. Other plans include offering security to businessmen like Anil Ambani and N.R. Narayana Murthy when they travel abroad.
The key issue, however, is whether to reduce the security status of some VIPs while bringing in more names in the higher-risk category. Currently, the Home Ministry lists 374 VIPs in the high-risk category. Of these, 13 are in Z-plus category, 44 in Z, 203 in Y and 108 in X. But the numbers keep increasing. It has been decided that TRS chief K. Chandrasekhara Rao would also get Z security cover due to a "threat perception" from the Naxalites.
The review is clearly overdue. Today, the sight of politicians surrounded by menacing NSG or Black Cat commandos is as ubiquitous as it is annoying. During a discussion in Parliament in 1999, then home minister L.K. Advani revealed: "I have had people approaching me, saying 'Kindly put me in Z-plus category' since that would entitle him to get a house. Otherwise it is not possible for him to live in Delhi .... Today, having NSG and Black Cat commandos as protectors has become a status symbol."
Indian politicians flaunt their security like they would a luxury car or an expensive accessory. Picture Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa and her armed guards. Or Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, who has a security entourage to rival that of the prime minister, as does his predecessor Mayawati.
According to a Home Ministry source, the review committee's recommendations will reduce the security cover of at least 12 VIPs from the NDA, including Arun Jaitley, Najma Heptullah and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, while Arun Shourie has had his VIP cover removed. Jaitley was given Z class security during his stint as the Centre's interlocutor in Kashmir talks in 2002. Two years later, this is being reduced to Y class.
The Home Ministry is also seriously examining a recommendation made by the Group of Ministers in June 2001 to set up a special unit within the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel to look after VIP protection, and to do away with the current deployment of the National Security Guard (NSG) commandos, Indo-Tibetan Border Police, Central Reserve Police Force and the state policemen.
Currently the list of VIPs protected by NSG commandos includes former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah, Parkash Singh Badal, M. Karunanidhi and Prafulla Kumar Mahanta. Incumbent chief ministers like Mulayam, Narendra Modi and Jayalalithaa have NSG cover as does Leader of the Opposition Advani. According to a Home Ministry official, there is a proposal to do away with the NSG commando cover for all except Advani and Abdullah. It is also recommended that Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed be brought under the NSG cover. However, the level of security for the rest will not be scaled down. Only the NSG commandos will be replaced by some other security force.
In fact, a recent threat perception of those outside the Government points out that the risk is the highest to former prime minister A.B. Vajpayee, followed by Advani and Modi. Then come the likes of Murli Manohar Joshi, Bal Thackeray, Acharya Giriraj Kishore and Pravin Togadia.
The Home Ministry is also examining a suggestion made by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Delhi Police to offer security to some members of Sonia's staff who are not in the government. One of the more radical recommendations is the plan to offer some sort of cover to businessmen. Now they are only provided travel advisories cautioning them on a perceived security threat. However, it is felt that businessmen like Ratan Tata, the Ambanis, Narayana Murthy and Azim Premji could be given security cover during their trips abroad.
A review of celebrity security is also on the cards. Though Shah Rukh and Tendulkar are already under security cover, the Home Ministry is considering their upgradation to Z-plus category and providing protection to others like Rai and Pathan. Other cricketing stars like Dravid and Sourav Ganguly could also be given VIP cover in their home states. In fact, the Pathan file takes into account his recently acquired icon-like status and mentions the case of the two sisters who ran away from Punjab to Pathan's home and threatened to commit suicide if he did not marry one of them.
Celebrities apart, it is the political VIPs who are ostensibly at the maximum risk, though not all deserve the cover. In the end, any security review by the Home Ministry will face political pulls and pressures from VIPs keen to be under the protective ambit. That problem will be considerably lessened if they follow the example of Sonia's Political Secretary Ahmed Patel who has already written a letter refusing the offer of Z class security. In fact, given the political overtones, pruning the list may just depend on such voluntary gestures rather than any stringent steps by the Home Ministry or the IB officials.