The political and moral aspects of the Gujarat snooping case appear to have overtaken the substantive legal issues involved in the State government ordering intrusive surveillance on a young woman without observing the mandatory procedural safeguards. With the Union Cabinet granting approval for the setting up of an inquiry commission to probe the scandal, the case is in danger of being reduced to another slanging match between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party in the run-up to the 2014 general election. That the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is believed to have taken personal interest in placing the woman under surveillance for no legally justifiable reason has given a hard, political edge to the case. What should ordinarily have revolved around charges of violation of the privacy of the woman, and the misuse of official machinery for whimsical ends by ruling politicians in Gujarat, is now a full-blown political controversy covering a range of issues from Centre-State relations to moral policing. Evidently, the Congress is hoping that some of the dirt it rakes up on this issue will stick on Mr. Modi, who often takes the high moral ground both on issues of administrative propriety and public policy. And the BJP is intent on presenting the entire episode as a witch-hunt by the Centre over a non-issue.

With the Gujarat government having already constituted a Commission of Inquiry to go into this sordid episode, the decision of the Centre to set up another inquiry commission on the same issue will necessarily be seen as a politically coloured exercise. Although the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952, prohibits the Central government from ordering an inquiry under the Act if a State government has already constituted an inquiry on the same matter, the Centre is taking refuge under the exemption provided in the Act for inquiries whose scope needed to be enlarged to two or more States. As the surveillance on the woman by the Gujarat police extended to Karnataka as well, the Congress could not resist the opportunity to score some political points from the scandal. Inquiry commissions in the past have generally toed the line of the government that brought them into being, and it would not be surprising if the State commission of inquiry and the Central commission of inquiry come up with conflicting reports on the same subject. Instead of being misled by the political noise over the issue, the inquiry commissions will hopefully end up strengthening the law of privacy in India, and lead toward the stricter implementation of safeguards against misuse of provisions that were meant to ensure larger national and public interest, and not serve some private agenda of those in power.

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