The issue of 'phone-tapping' of political leaders in Rajasthan blew up into a major controversy on Saturday with the Bharatiya Janata Party demanding a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into it and the Congress alleging that the demand amounted to its "admission of guilt" after the audio tapes of a purported telephonic conversation between a dissident Congress MLA and a Union minister surfaced.
The controversy erupted a day after the Congress suspended two dissident MLAs -- Bhanwar Lal Sharma and Vishvendra Singh -- from party's primary membership for allegedly plotting with the BJP to topple the Rajasthan government after the audio clip of the purported conversation between Sharma and Union minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat came out.
Shekhawat has rejected these allegations and said he is willing to be investigated.
Launching a counter-offensive against the Congress over the audio tape row, the BJP asked whether the Ashok Gehlot government in Rajasthan resorted to "unconstitutional" means to tap phones of politicians, and demanded a CBI probe into what it called a "saga of illegalities and concocted lies".
"These are serious questions that we want to ask the Congress high command and Ashok Gehlot. Was phone tapping done? Assuming that you've tapped phones, was the standard operating procedure followed? Did the Congress government in Rajasthan use unconstitutional ways to save themselves when they found themselves cornered?" BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra asked at a press conference. People of Rajasthan want to know whether their privacy has been compromised, he said, asking if phones of people related to politics are being tapped? "Is it not a case of veiled emergency in Rajasthan?" Patra asked.
The Congress hit back alleging that this made it clear that the saffron party was behind the rebellion by Sachin Pilot and others, and also its involvement in the alleged 'horse trading' of MLAs in Rajasthan.
Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera said everyone witnessed over the last week, the daylight "murder of democracy" being attempted by the BJP in Rajasthan.
"We have all seen, everyday a new layer comes out exposing the direct links of the BJP in creating some kind of crisis, trying to commit murder of democracy in Rajasthan. Their only grievance was that when they were murdering democracy, why were they getting recorded and if they were getting recorded, was it legal," Khera said at a virtual press conference.
Khera said it is like a murderer claiming that the witness who saw him committing the murder and who informed the police, violated the privacy of the murderer by peeping into his room when he was committing the crime.
"The shamelessness of this admission is also very shocking. They are not worried about the fact that they got caught red handed, they are worried about the fact that why did they get caught, (and) was exposing their crime legal," he asked. Khera said everyone saw some so-called tapes exposing the goings-on in Rajasthan, including voices of the Union minister, and a case was filed and a Special Operations Group team went to Manesar to collect voice samples of the MLAs involved.
"For the first time in history, a police of another state actively blocked the Rajasthan SOG team from collecting the voice samples and quietly, surreptitiously ensured that all the MLAs escaped from the backdoor of the hotel," he said.
"All this makes it amply clear that it is a BJP operation. BJP is not denying it anymore, actually they are admitting to it. Their only grievance is, why did we get recorded, was the recording legitimate," he said.
The Congress leader alleged that the BJP openly "misused" its official machinery in Manohar Lal Khattar-ruled Haryana to thwart an ongoing investigation.
Khera said, "What is the reason Sachin Pilot trusts Haryana Police more than Rajasthan Police."
He also alleged that the BJP has a track record in toppling governments as had happened in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh and some other states in the past. "To try and create some kind of a crisis in the state because the BJP was decisively defeated in Rajasthan in 2018 and a party, whose sole objective is to win elections rather than to govern the country, can go to any extent, " Khera alleged.
Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee president Govind Singh Dotasra if the BJP was not involved in it (toppling the government) why a Rajasthan Police team probing the audio tapes was not allowed to enter the hotel in the BJP-ruled Haryana till the rebel MLAs were moved elsewhere.
Scoffing at the Congress's allegation that the BJP was behind the rebellion, Patra cited Gehlot's recent digs at Pilot and said the conspiracy grew within the state's ruling party.
"The political drama unfolding in the Congress in Rajasthan is a cocktail of conspiracies, concocted stories, manufactured lies and illegalities... The sin was theirs. Conspiracies existed within the Congress," he alleged.
Patra also asserted "the BJP's morality is crystal clear and there is not a taint on it and the party stands by truth."
The Congress has a history of "phone tapping and bugging", Patra said, and referred to a row involving Pranab Mukherjee and P Chidambaram, both senior ministers in the erstwhile Congress-led UPA government, over alleged snooping. The Congress on Friday demanded the arrest of Shekhawat and rebel Sharma after two audio clips surfaced pertaining to the alleged conspiracy to topple the Gehlot government.
The BJP had described the audio clips as "manufactured". Shekhawat has denied the charge too, saying the voice in these clips was not his. He said he was ready to face any probe.
Meanwhile, in her first reaction on the political crisis in Rajasthan, former state chief minister Vasundhara Raje said it is unfortunate that the people of the state are paying for the discord within the Congress.
Noting that the Congress is trying to shift the blame on the BJP and the BJP leadership, she said,"there is no point in trying to drag the BJP and the BJP leaders' names through the mud. It is the interest of our people that must remain paramount!".
BSP chief Mayawati said Rajasthan Governor Kalraj Mishra should take cognisance of the instability in the state and recommend President's Rule.
She also attacked Gehlot, alleging that he had openly violated the Anti-Defection law and cheated the BSP for a second time by getting its MLAs included in the Congress.
"And it is also evident he did an illegal and unconstitutional thing by phone tapping," Mayawati said in a series of tweets in Hindi.