Opposition parties in Parliament today vociferously protested the “snooping” on Rahul Gandhi, with the government dismissing their contention saying they were making a “mountain out of what is not even a molehill”, leading the Congress to walk out of Rajya Sabha.
The government maintained in both the Houses that Delhi Police personnel had recently visited Rahul’s residence to collect information on him as part of a transparent security profiling that was used to profile 526 other VIPs, including former Prime Ministers and Sonia Gandhi since UPA rule.
In the Rajya Sabha, the issue was raised by Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad who said Rahul had been a SPG protectee since his father Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister and it was “beyond comprehension” why the police was only now collecting such information on him like his shoe size, colour of hair, habits, his associates, friends and aides.
His senior party colleague Anand Sharma accused government of tapping phones of political leaders, judges and others through imported devices and demanded an inquiry monitored by the Supreme Court into the snooping issue.
The Upper House also saw Satyavrat Chaturvedi (Cong), Naresh Agarwal and Ramgopal Yadav (both SP) and K C Tyagi (JD-U) raising the issue of “snooping and spying” on the government’s political opponents.
In the Lok Sabha, Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge said the NDA government was pursuing the Gujarat model of governance by snooping on political opponents.
“This has never happened in democracy,” Kharge said and asked the government to tell police officials to read ‘Who’s Who’ instead of seeking simple information from the persons concerned.
Responding to the charges, Leader of Rajya Sabha and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said in both Houses the police has been collecting such information since 1987 on VIPs living in Lutyens Delhi through a proforma as part of a transparent security profiling.
Security needs and profiling should be left to security experts and “we should not attempt to become one”, he said, adding “the issue raised is making mountain of what is not even a molehill.”
The proforma, which was revised in 1999, has been used to profile former prime ministers H D Dewa Gowda, I K Gujral, Manmohan Singh and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The same was also used to profile Congress President Sonia Gandhi in October 2004, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012, he said.
Pranab Mukherjee, before becoming the President, was profiled in 2001, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2012, while senior BJP leaders L K Advani and Sushma Swaraj, Ahmed Patel of Congress, CPI(M)’s Sitaram Yechury and Sharad Yadav of JD-U were also profiled, the Finance Minister said in similar statements in the two Houses.
“526 persons have been profiled using the present form” and this was part of “transparent, security profiling and not associated with any kind of snooping or spying,” Jaitley said.
He also proposed to sit with Azad, the Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, to go through the 526 forms filled during the previous UPA rule.
However, agitated Congress members including former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, walked out of the House after Azad said “we are not satisfied (with the statement) and are walking out.”
Earlier, Deputy Chairman P J Kurien rejected the notice under rule 267 for suspension of business and a discussion on the matter, after hearing out those who had given the notice and disallowing a debate on the issue.
K C Tyagi (JD-U) said the security profiling has “never been heard of” and demanded a discussion on invasion of privacy as well as corporate and political espionage.
Naresh Agarwal (SP) alleged that one lakh telephones were being tapped everyday without requisite permission and warned that the privacy of individuals should not be challenged.
In the Lok Sabha when Kharge raised the issue, Jaitley accused the Congress of trivialising the matter and said that the body of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who was killed by suicide bomber, was recognised by his shoes.
The minor details being sought by the police may look trival on the face of it but are important from the point of view of security, Jaitley said, adding “you are short of issues but do not invent issues which do not exist.”
Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu said the police has been carrying out routine checks as per the practice followed since 1957.
“Enquiries were part of a routine exercise and so far 526 other VVIPs have been similarly profiled,” he said, adding these persons included Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP chief Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh, Sheila Dikshit, Ahmed Patel and George Fernandes.
Naidu emphasised that it was a “routine” exercise and the question of espionage does not arise.
When Lok Sabha met for the day, Kharge raised the issue saying it was not limited to the right of privacy of Rahul Gandhi but all members. If such incidents continue, the democratic norms as enshrined in the Constitution will be “demolished”, he said.
While the Parliamentary Affairs Minister said the “government is clean on the issue and has nothing to hide” and urged the opposition to allow the Question Hour.
Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, who had disallowed adjournment motions moved by Congress leaders, also said the issue, though important, could be raised during Zero Hour.
In the Rajya Sabha, Azad charged government with snooping and spying on political opponents, saying the government was “resorting to threats, coersion and pressure to quell political dissent”.
“If you raise voice, the Central Government can use any measure,” he said demanding that Home Minister Rajnath Singh should come to the House and explain.
Last year there were reports of NDA government minister’s telephone being tapped, Azad said, adding since BJP assumed power in May 2014, religious and political freedom have been curbed. “The Delhi Police action is against privacy and against democracy,” he said.
His parrty colleague Anand Sharma said the issue of importing listening devices for hearing to conversations had come up a few years ago and it was decided to ban them.
“This government is tapping phones of political leaders and judges. There has to be an inquiry monitored by the Supreme Court and nothing short of it,” he said.
After hearing all those who had given a notice and the government, Kurien, who was in the Chair, said, “To take a proper decision, I have heard them out. I have taken a decision. I am ruling out a discussion. Notice under 267 is ruled out.I have not allowed.”
Dissatisfied Congressmen were soon on their feet in protest as Naresh Agarwal (SP) and Tapan Kumar Sen (CPI-M) said once a discussion has started, the House will decide whether it will take place under the rule or not.
“I am not refuting what Naresh Agarwal is saying. For helping take a correct decision, I have to hear both sides. I had to hear them out as well as the government,” Kurien said.
Tyagi earlier said the security profiling has “never been heard of” and demanded a discussion on invasion of privacy as well as corporate and political espionage.
Agarwal alleged that one lakh telephones were being tapped everyday without requisite permission and warned that the privacy of individuals should not be challenged.