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When Indira snooped on Maneka, Rajiv on the President

By Vicky Nanjappa
November 20, 2013 15:09 IST
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When it comes to spying, our netas are habitual offenders. Vicky Nanjappa digs up past records of prying politicians that date back to the 1980s. 

The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party are at a war of words yet again, this time over an alleged snooping row. Recent revelations of Narendra Modi’s close aide Amit Shah instructing police officers to tail a woman as insisted upon by "saheb" has fuelled a nationwide debate.

If the rulebook is to be followed only the home secretary of the central or state government can grant permission to ‘snoop’ on an individual and that too strictly in the interest of national security.

In the case of Amit Shah, there is enough evidence to suggest that he used the state machinery to snoop on a woman without permission from the home secretary, making it an offence. However, it’s not a first. The norms have been flouted on several occasions in the murky world of Indian politics.

Here’s a look.  

A book by former joint director of the Intelligence Bureau, the late Maloy Krishna Dhar, provided quite an insight. In Open Secrets, India’s Intelligence Unveiled he spoke about the agency being used for snooping often by the Gandhis. Former prime minister Indira Gandhi was one of India’s first politicians to indulge in snooping. She asked the IB to keep a tab on the then home minister Giani Zail Singh. 

According to the book, Zail Singh’s conversations were tapped at the behest of Gandhi. His talk with Khalistan militant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was recorded and handed over to her.  

And that’s not all. The former PM also ordered the IB to keep an eye on daughter-in-law Maneka Gandhi, wife of Sanjay Gandhi. The intelligence agency spied on all her friends and tapped their conversations. They even snooped on Maneka’s mother and the editorial board of a magazine run by her.  

Rajiv Gandhi followed his mother’s footsteps. He too ordered the IB to snoop on Zail Singh, who was then the President. Rashtrapathi Bhavan was bugged. Having an inkling of it, Singh met his visitors only in the garden.

Rajiv himself did not escape the ‘bug’. It was alleged that a former cabinet secretary had recorded a conversation in which Rajiv had instructed him to deliver cash in a suitcase to his brother-in-law in Italy.

In 2011, Pranab Mukherjee, who was then the finance minister, complained that his office was bugged. Speculation was rife that P Chidambaram in his capacity as the home minister had ordered the bugging. However, the case was shut after the IB told the PM that Pranab’s office was not bugged. Insiders say that it wasn’t the IB, but a private agency that spied on him. 

The most recent among spying incidents on politicians is the phone tapping case of Bharatiya Janata Party’s Arun Jaitley. Investigations show that it was ordered by his political rivals. Jaitley’s phones were tapped with the help of Delhi policemen and a private agency is also said to be involved.

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