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Will phone tapping controversy rock Gehlot's boat?

March 29, 2021 10:50 IST

Union minister files a case against Rajasthan officials, alleges that audio recordings of tapped phone conversations has tarnished his reputation and disturbed his mental peace.
Prakash Bhandari reports.

IMAGE: Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot pays homage to Mahatma Gandhi on the 91st anniversary of the Dandi March in Jaipur, March 12, 2021. Photograph: ANI Photo

Thirty-three years after Ramakrishna Hegde's government fell when the charges against his government of tapping the phones of Karnataka MLAs was proved, the Ashok Gehlot government, one of the three Congress government in the states, confronts a similar controversy.

Union Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, who hails from Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot's home city Jodhpur, has filed a complaint on March 20 at the Tughlak Road police station in New Delhi that his phones were tapped during Rajasthan's political crisis in July-August last year.

Shekhawat has named Lokesh Sharma, an officer on special duty, who handles the chief minister's media, and police officers in HIS FIR.

The Delhi police'S crime branch has registered a case under section 26 of the Indian Telegraph Act, sections 72/72 A of the IT Act and section 409 and 120 B of the Indian Penal Code.

In his FIR, Shekhawat stated that audio recordings of the tapped phone conversations appearing in social media has tarnished his reputation and disturbed his mental peace.

Shekhawat alleged that the phone tapping was conducted without the prior permission of the additional chief secretary of the state home department, the competent authority to grant permission for phone tapping.

Rajeeva Swarup, the then additional chief secretary, had then stated that he had not permitted the phone tapping.

Later, then chief secretary D B Gupta was removed and Swarup appointed in his place. Rohit Kumar Singh was appointed additional chief secretary, home.

When the Centre asked the Rajasthan government to send a report, Rohit Kumar Singh refused to sign the report to be sent to the Centre. Later, he was removed as additional chief secretary, home. Singh is currently deputed to the Union government as an additional secretary.

'I lodged the FIR only after the admittance of state Parliamentary Affairs minister Shanti Dhariwal in the Vidhan Sabha that the phones were tapped and it was made viral by the OSD of the chief minister,' said Shekhawat.

'I decided to lodge the FIR in Delhi as I am a Union minister and based in Delhi. The Delhi police is under the home ministry and will conduct the probe independently. I have lodged this FIR as the tapping of phones is a violation of an individual's right,' Shekhawat added.

The Gehlot government in the Vidhan Sabha, responding to a question posed by senior Bharatiya Janata Party MLA and former minister Kali Charan Saraf, admitted to tapping phones, but stated that no legislators' or MPs' phones were tapped.

Shekhawat's FIR alleged that Lokesh Sharma illegally intercepted the telephonic conversation with another person, which was in violation of the Indian Telegraph Act.

Through the leaked phone conversations, the Gelhot government tried to prove that the BJP was involved in the horse-trading in July-August last year when then deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot along with 19 dissident MLAs rebelled against Gehlot.

On July 15, 2020, three tapes were released by the Gehlot camp when the political crisis was at its peak.

One of the tapes dealt with a conversation between Shekhawat and rebel Congress MLA Bhanwar Lal Sharma.

Another tape featured a conversation between Shekhawat and Vishvendra Singh, then tourism minister in Gehlot's Cabinet.

Govind Singh Dotasara, the Pradesh Congress Comnmittee president and Rajasthan's education minister, stated the voice on the audio clips was that of Shekhawat.

Dotasara, a Gehlot confidante, added that the BJP tried to topple the Congress government in Rajasthan with the active involvement of senior BJP leaders.

BJP leader Gulab Chand Kataria, leader of the Opposition in the Rajasthan assembly, said the Gehlot government has demanded that Shekhawat provide a sample of his voice, but has not sought voice samples of Congress leaders Bhanwar lal Sharma and Vishvendra Singh.

Rajendra Singh Rather, deputy leader of the Opposition in the Vidhan Sabha, asked why Chief Whip Mahesh Joshi's FIR lodged with the Rajasthan police's special operations group levelling charges against the BJP for indulging in horse-trading was later withdrawn.

Shekhawat defeated Vaibhav Gehlot, the chief minister's son in the 2019 Lok Sabha election by over two lakh votes.

The state government is currently inquiring a scam allegedly committed by a credit society in which Shekhawat was once a director.

Several investors who invested in the credit society has sought the Rajasthan high court's intervention in arresting its directors and recover their money.

The high court will hear the case on April 18.

Prakash Bhandari is a veteran commentator based in Jaipur.

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