The Indian authorities have been accused of providing security for the rich and poweful but doing nothing for the safety of ordinary people after it was announced the country’s wealthiest man is to get “VIP” police protection usually reserved for senior politicians and officials.
Billionaire industrialist Mukesh Ambani, who lives in a 27-storey Mumbai tower that reportedly cost as much as £1.30bn, is to be provided a team of up to 24 armed policemen to provide around the clock protection after he received a threatening letter from extremists.
The government has defended the move, saying that Mr Ambani is a “national asset”. But campaigners say the move underscores the priorities of a government that has been accused of doing insufficient to protect ordinary women and children from rapes and sexual assaults.
The move to provide 56-year-old Mr Ambani with “Z category” protection comes amid ongoing protests in Delhi after two young girls – aged four and five – were raped and left for dead in separate incidents in the country. The police have been repeatedly accused of failing to take action and even of assaulting women who have gone to complain.
“On one hand the government is acting like a security agency for Ambani, but at the same time it cannot provide security to its own people,” said Manish Sisodia of the Aam Aadmi party, which was formed last by activists. “Its priority is not the common people of the country – it’s Ambani.”
The government said it was to provide security to Mr Ambani after he received a hand-written letter two months ago which threatened to attack the industrialist’s home. Reports suggest the Indian mujahideen, a shadowy organisation often blamed for bomb attacks in India, is believed to have sent the letter.
No-one from India’s ministry of home affairs could be reached today, but information minister Manish Tewari told the NDTV news channel: “Security is given only after threat perception assessment.”
The Indian media speculated that Mr Ambani, said by Forbes to be worth £14bn, may have been targetted because of his perceived close relationship with the controversial chief minister of the state of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, who has been accused to prevent the massacre of hundreds of Muslims in 2002.
Mr Ambani’s Reliance Industries has declined to publicly comment on the development. But it is understood the industrialist has offered to the protection team’s monthly costs of up to £11,000.
But it is not just a matter of money. Earlier this year, India’s supreme court condemned the VIP protection culture that was taking up thousands of police officers that could otherwise be involved in regular duties. In the aftermath of the December 16 gang-rape and murder of a young student, the court asked the authorities to redeploy officers to protect women.
Of the 75,000-strong Delhi force, a minimum of 8,049 are involved in protecting 460 VIPs, an average of 17 officers per official as opposed to one police officers for every 250 ordinary citizens. Based on the government’s own data, across India there is just one officer for every 760 people. It may be, even more officers are involved protecting the VIPs.
The controversy over whether the government is doing sufficient to protect ordinary people, comes as protesters have been demanding the authorities do more to protect ordinary citizens, particularly women. Since last December’s gang-rape of a 23-year-old student, the country has been gripped by a debate over the treatment of women and the media has reported rapes and assaults on a daily basis.
Protesters held locations in several locations, including outside the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi where a young girl is being treated after being attacked and raped. According to Dr DK Sharma, the hospital medical superintendent, the five-year-old is said to be making steady progress after being assaulted and having a bottle and parts of a candle pushed inside her. “She is showing signs of recovery,” he said.
Yet reports suggest another young girl, aged four and attacked in the city of Nagpur, is still struggling and is on a life support machine in that city.
One protester, Yogita Chakraborty, said the authorities had to take more incisive action. She said too many police officers were unwillingness to register rape cases. She said: “We want the police to take responsibility and be pro-active.”
As a “Z Category” VIP, Mr Ambani will have up to 22 security guards from the Central Reserve Police Force, an escort and a pilot car