Snoopgate puts brake on the BJP's forward surge

Special to Times of Oman

As the poll campaign is in the homestretch, BJP's emerging strongman, Narendra Modi, is facing a barrage of verbal attacks. That's part of the course in politics and Modi has been down this route umpteen times. He has brazened out the 2002 riots without eliciting even an ounce of sympathy and been living it down without losing his sangfroid — and marbles.

But a scandal known as the snoopgate which has come into sharp focus just ahead of the last two phases of polling has put Modi and his saffron party in a pretty pickle. For one, stalking a woman and tapping her phone using the state machinery have exposed the hypocrisy of the party's women's empowerment talk and all that jazz. The party fears that it could scare off a considerable number of potential women voters.

For another, at least some voters would think they, irrespective of the gender divide, are liable to be snooped on if BJP comes to power with Modi at the helm. At a time when BJP is attempting a final push in the last stretches it has to contend with the snooping scam that relates to the illegal snooping of a woman architect and her kin.

The issue is guaranteed to cast a shadow over the rest of Modi's campaign forays though the party is sure the RSS foot-soldiers would take care of the crowds part.

BJP's remonstrations that the lady was spied on as per a request from her father lack credibility.  One, nobody knows whether her father was forced to make the request or not. Two, even if a father asks for it, how can it be legal to record his adult daughter's activities, private or otherwise, without her knowledge? Three, will the Gujarat state machinery oblige a citizen if he makes a request to snoop on another citizen even if it is for the latter's good?

The UPA government's decision to appoint a commission of inquiry into the scandal has driven BJP round the bend. Secret tapes containing conversations Modi's alter ego Amit Shah had had with an IPS officer and the then IG of the Gujarat state intelligence bureau (IB) were released by Cobrapost and Gulail on their websites. The recordings of the snooping that included tapping the woman's phones, tailing her and prying on her, her parents and other close kin were apparently relayed to the 'saheb' meaning Modi.  

BJP claims that the proposed probe is violative of the code of conduct as the election process is on. Congress spokesmen, however, say that the EC has given its green light as the cabinet had taken the call as far back as December 2013.

The saffron mandarins have contended that the central government should butt out of the whole shebang since the alleged happenings took place in Gujarat and state government ordered probe is already in place.

First, they do not seem to be concerned about the ludicrousness of a defendant probing his/her own action. Second, Gulail has come out with fresh tapes that apparently corroborate that the snooping had gone beyond the borders of Gujarat. The website claims that Gujarat officials requested the then Yeddyurappa-led government to snoop on the woman in question and relay the information back to them. And on one occasion, as per the tape, the Karnataka government turned it down on the plea that it was illegal.

Congress leaders, therefore, say that the central government is within its rights to order an inquiry. But the UPA government botched it up by delaying the probe interminably.  According to the media, no sitting or retired judge was ready to take up the task for whatever reasons.

According to the government, a sitting judge of the Allahabad high court could probe the scam and the appointment would be made before the counting of votes starts on May 16. The fact is that nobody, not even the central government, is sure of the appointment. Who knows, the government may even junk the probe plan altogether. It doesn't, however, mean that the issue would vanish from the UPA campaigns.

Adding to the discomfiture of Congress is the stance of two key UPA partners, NCP and NC, on the question of appointing a judge at the eleventh hour. Sharad Pawar and Omar Abdullah have expressed their opposition.

The writer is a freelance contributor based in India. . All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.


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