Rajasthan: After months, Congress government admits to phone tapping
Months after "leaked" phone conversations between Congress leaders and a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Minister at the Centre triggered a political crisis in Rajasthan, the state government has admitted that phones were "intercepted." The Congress government, led by Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, had earlier denied the allegations. A furious Opposition has now demanded a CBI probe into the matter. Here are more details.
Political crisis in Rajasthan had begun last July
The political crisis in Rajasthan had begun in July 2020 after phone recordings of conversations between Union Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, then Rajasthan Tourism Minister Vishvendra Singh, and Congress MLA Bhanwar Lal Sharma and others were "leaked." However, CM Gehlot had said at the time that it was "not the way" of his government to tap the phones of Ministers and legislators.
Sachin Pilot's camp had made allegations against Gehlot
In August, former Rajasthan Deputy CM Sachin Pilot's loyalists had accused Gehlot of tapping the phones of MLAs staying at a resort in Jaisalmer back then. His camp had claimed that calls made through the hotel's intercom system were being recorded, and also provided a list of intercom numbers that were being allegedly tapped. The Rajasthan Police had denied its involvement in the controversy.
BJP MLA Kalicharan had asked if phones were tapped
The Rajasthan government how now confessed in response to a question asked during the House session of August 2020. BJP MLA Kalicharan had asked, "Is it true that phone tapping cases have come up in the last days? If yes, under which law and by whose orders?" In its months-long delayed reply, the Home Department stated phones were intercepted in interest of public safety.
This is how the government replied
According to the government's reply, "The telephones are intercepted under the provision of Section 5 (2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, and Section 419 (A) of the Indian Telegraph (Amendment) Rules, 2007, and Section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000- after approval by a competent officer." "All cases up to the month of November 2020 have been reviewed," the response further read.
Government did not specify details of numbers intercepted
However, the government has not given details about the telephone numbers that were intercepted and the time for which they were put under scrutiny. It has said that "interception cases are reviewed by Chief Secretary, Rajasthan, who presides [over the meetings] as per rules."
'Murder of democracy'
BJP's Gajendra Singh Shekhwat, in a series of tweets, has accused the Congress of abusing the government machinery. "This is what the BJP had said in July last year - 'Emergency is going on in Rajasthan.' The Gehlot government denied it at the time, and is now accepting that the phones were tapped. This is a violation of privacy, murder of democracy," he wrote.
BJP state chief calls for CBI inquiry
Meanwhile, state BJP chief Satish Poonia has called for a CBI inquiry into the matter. "The Chief Minister, who holds the home portfolio, is guilty of this," Poonia told reporters, demanding that CM Gehlot should resign on moral grounds. However, the Congress has rubbished the charges, saying the phones that were tapped did not belong to any MLA or MP.