Political parties have locked horns over allegations the former Gujarat Home Minister, Amit Shah, ordered illegal mobile phone wiretaps and police surveillance targeting a Bangalore-based woman, with the Congress and Communist Party of India (Marxist) calling for a full investigation, and the Bharatiya Janata Party dismissing them as “baseless.”
“If the alleged expose about state-sponsored stalking is correct, I would be worried, not as a woman but as a civil libertarian about the Orwellian state that some esteemed gentlemen aim to create,” Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari said in New Delhi on Saturday.
The CPI(M) called on the Gujarat government to “take immediate action against Shah and the police officers for violating the Indian Telegraph Act.” It said the alleged surveillance illustrated the “degeneration of the minimum norms of democratic governance under Modi.”
BJP president Rajnath Singh, however, told journalists in Raipur that the allegations were “baseless.” He claimed the tapes had been released by what he described as the Congress’ “dirty tricks department” in an effort to discredit Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
The websites, Cobrapost.com and Gulail.com, had on Friday released taped conversations between Mr. Shah and Superintendent of Police Girish Singhal, which show the surveillance was mounted between August 4 and September 6, 2007. In the tapes, the voice purported to be that of Mr. Shah makes repeated enquiries about the woman’s personal life. He claims to be acting on the instructions of a person he only calls saheb, or ‘sir’.
However, Pranlal Soni, the woman’s father, said the surveillance had been mounted at his request, amidst concern for her safety. In a letter released on Friday, Mr. Soni said he had verbally requested Mr. Modi, “with whom we have long-standing family relations” to “take care” of his daughter. Mr. Soni requested the media “to ensure that the vested interests seeking to give political colour to our personal family issue be not helped in any manner.”
Mr. Soni could not be reached for comment. The woman, whose name and personal details are being withheld by TheHindu, also could not be reached for comment.
It remains unclear if the Gujarat government secured legal approval for the wiretap from the State’s then Additional Chief Secretary in charge of Home, the competent authority. “I have nothing to say,” Gujarat’s current Additional Chief Secretary (Home) S.K. Nanda told TheHindu. “It is between the parties and the CBI.”
A Gujarat Police spokesperson told TheHindu he did not immediately have access to old files authorising interception. He, however, added that it would have been legally incumbent on the police to act on Mr. Soni’s concerns, even if no written complaint was submitted.
In 2011, IAS officer Pradeep Sharma, facing corruption charges filed by the Gujarat government, named the woman in litigation filed by the Supreme Court. He also alleged that the Gujarat government had tapped his phones. Mr. Sharma later withdrew allegations involving the woman.
Mr. Singhal is on bail awaiting trial for his alleged role in the extrajudicial killing of Maharashtra resident Ishrat Jehan.
The CBI received 267 tapes from Mr. Singhal in the course of its investigation into the Ishrat Jehan case, recording conversations between him and Mr. Shah.