The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

India sends elite commandos to guard billionaire’s wife; outrage ensues

Nita Ambani in Selarpur village near Ahmedabad, Gujarat, where her Reliance Foundation has implemented programs to improve households. (Sam Panthaky/AFP)

Imagine, if you will, the kind of outcry that would occur in the United States if the government sent a Secret Service detail to protect Melinda Gates, wife of Bill Gates.

That explains a bit of the furor in India this week after a Hindustan Times report that the Indian government was dispatching a team of elite commandos to protect Nita Ambani, the socialite wife of India’s richest man.

Her husband, Mukesh Ambani, an oil and gas magnate worth $21 billion, has had a government security escort since 2013, when he was the subject of terrorist threats, and covers the costs himself.

But in a country where there is a shortage of police officers, the news about 10 additional officers for his wife rankled.

“Women raped daily in Delhi. No security for them despite repeated requests. But [prime minister Narendra Modi] providing security to his friends,” Delhi’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, said in a tweet.

The government said a threat-assessment report by central security agencies deemed Nita Ambani’s protection necessary, according to the Hindustan Times report.

Ambani, 52, is an art collector, serves on the board of directors of her husband's company and chairs its charity wing. The couple lives in a famous 27-story home in Mumbai that has a ballroom, a movie theater and six parking levels and has been featured in Vanity Fair.

The news reignited the debate of “VIP privilege” in India, where in recent years ordinary citizens have begun to chafe against what they see as undue perks given to the rich and famous, who are whisked through airport waiting lines, ride in motorcades that clog traffic and, in the case of politicians, live in luxury, government-assigned bungalows.

The data site IndiaSpend estimated in 2013 that in India, which is short about a half-million police officers, an estimated 47,000 officers are dispatched to protect 14,842 VIPs.

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