The union government served a notice to Indian National Congress (INC) general secretary Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra today, ordering her to vacate her state bungalow in Delhi by 1 August. The notice said her allotment stood cancelled from this day and that she owed Rs 3.46 lakh in dues.
Priyanka Gandhi was “expecting this decision after the withdrawal of SPG (Special Protection Group) security,” sources said. They said this would “not deter her from the political work or from criticising the government”.
Shortly after the notice, Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra made an online payment to ensure that her dues were all paid, according to sources.
The Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs said in the notice that Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra must vacate Bungalow 35 on Lodhi Estate allotted to her in 1997 as she no longer had the Special Protection Group (SPG) security. The government said she was not entitled to a bungalow unless the home ministry made an exception on grounds of security.
“Consequent upon withdrawal of SPG protection and grant of Z+ security cover by Ministry of Home Affairs, which does not have provision for allotment/retention of government accommodation on security ground to you, the allotment of Type 6B house number 35, Lodhi Estate, New Delhi is hereby cancelled with effect from 01/07/2020,” said the ministry’s notice.
The ministry has told Priyanka Gandhi if she stays beyond 1 August, she will be penalised.
Sources close to the INC said she had been reluctant to take the government bungalow in the first place but was forced to do so because of the SPG, which did not allow her to move into Sainik Farms in south Delhi after she married Robert Vadra.
The Narendra Modi government had withdrawn the elite SPG cover, which INC’s interim president Sonia Gandhi, former president Rahul Gandhi and general secretary Priyanka Gandhi had been enjoying since the 1991 assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, in November 2019.
The SPG is a 3,000-strong crack commando force that comes with armoured vehicles, now only protects Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Priyanka Vadra, unlike her mother and brother, is not an MP and, therefore, not entitled to a government bungalow, an official of the ministry said. The INC says the government will now have to take a call on senior BJP leaders LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, who have retained their bungalows though they are no longer MPs.
Many INC politicians, among them Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, had protested the move last November. But Home Minister Amit Shah had rubbished all those contentions in the parliament.
The debate over the bill seeking to amend the rule for SPG protection in the parliament on 27 November 2019 had seen the INC stage a walkout for an alleged ‘dilution’ in the protective cover offered to the Nehru-Gandhi family after Shah pointed out that Rahul Gandhi wantonly breached the rules of SPG that his party was asking for him. Introducing the bill in the Lok Sabha that day. the home minister had proposed to amend the SPG Security Act to offer SPG protection only for the prime minister and those living with him in his residence.
Soon after the government’s move to downgrade the Gandhis’ protection to Z+ category last year, the Congress had alleged a security breach at Priyanka Gandhi’s house. On 25 November 2019, a car drove into Priyanka Gandhi’s home in Delhi without being stopped. Home Minister Amit Shah pooh-poohed the allegation, saying the car had INC workers. He said Rahul Gandhi was scheduled to visit his sister at the time so when a similar SUV drove in no one stopped it.
On 3 December last year, during the debate preceding the passing of the SPG Amendment Bill in the Rajya Sabha, Shah quipped that the only person who would be inconvenienced by the changed law was current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as he would be stripped of the facility five years later. Shah said during the debate, addressing the discomfort of INC MPs who had been protesting against the lower-level security for Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra, that the government was against dynasties, not families. The context for that was the fact that the amended law did not offer the highest level of security to the members of a former prime minister’s family, which the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty has been enjoying because Rajiv Gandhi was once the prime minister of the country.