Opposition parties in Parliament and outside on Monday vociferously protested the alleged “snooping” on Rahul Gandhi but the Government and the Bharatiya Janata Party trashed the charge, accusing them of making a “mountain out of what is not even a molehill”.
The government maintained in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha 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, a practice prevailing since United Progressive Alliance rule.
Upping the ante, Congress said the government's response was “completely redundant”.
The party alleged that the government was “trivialising” the issue and leaders of the BJP were making misleading statements.
Party spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi also rubbished suggestions that Congress President Sonia Gandhi had in the past filled up a proforma like the one that was taken to Rahul Gandhi's office saying, “Neither Sonia nor Rahul or their private secretaries have filled up any such form on their behalf.”
Dismissing the Congress charge of “political espionage”, Union Minister M Venkaiah Naidu said enquiries made about Rahul were a routine affair.
“This is an exercise (which has been) going on since 1947 and the proforma procedure was formalised in 1957 by Delhi Police,” the Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister said here.
Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah asked why the Union Home Ministry had not come out with an explanation immediately after the issue cropped up.
“If the explanation for the 'snooping' is correct, then two questions -- why didn't the Ministry of Home Affairs offer this explanation about 500+ profiles immediately,” Omar, who is working president of Opposition National Conference, wrote on twitter.
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 (Congress), Naresh Agarwal and Ramgopal Yadav (both Samajwadi Party) and K C Tyagi (Janata Dal-United) 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," HE said.
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."
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.
Meanwhile, Delhi Police continued to refute charges of "snooping" on the Congress vice president, insisting that physical appearance detailing is an old and routine process.
In a bid to douse suspicion raised by some former Delhi police chiefs who said they were unaware of such practice, Commissioner B S Bassi said that being a big organisation, it is not necessary that everything is brought to the knowledge of the police chief.