BJP slams UPA for “snoopgate“ probe

Leaders of the Bhartiya Janata Party have slammed the UPA government's decision to set up a commission of inquiry into the alleged surveillance on a young woman by the Gujarat Police as "political vindictiveness'' against its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.

The central government on Thursday approved a proposal to institute an inquiry into the allegations that Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and his government had subjected a young architecture student to unauthorised electronic surveillance in 2009.

The central government overruled the Gujarat government's contention that the matter was a state subject and that it has already appointed a Commission to investigate the allegations of snooping.

The union cabinet on Thursday approved a proposal to set up a commission of inquiry under Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952, to look into the incidents of physical/electronic surveillance in the states of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, and the National Capital Territory of Delhi, allegedly without authorisation, a cabinet note said.

The Commission of Inquiry, to be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, is expected to submit its report within three months, ahead of the elections to the Lok Sabha.

The allegation of snooping comes in the wake of news web sites Gulail and Cobrapost revealing to the media a series of phone conversations in Gujarati, which they claim were between Modi aide and then Gujarat home minister Amit Shah and police officer GL Singhal.

Shah is purportedly heard directing Singhal to put the young woman and a senior IAS officer under surveillance. Shah is also alleged to have told Singhal to deploy policemen to keep a strict vigil on the woman and intercept her phone calls.

Gulail on Wednesday released 39 new tapes and claimed the woman architect was spied on in Bangalore too.

''Gulail has obtained 39 new audio tapes of telephone conversations which reveal that the Gujarat Home Department had contacted the Karnataka government in 2009 and sought authorisation to intercept the cell phone of (the woman),'' the web site stated.

Gulail also repeated its earlier reference to a ''Saheb'', also made by Cobrapost, when the two websites first made their disclosure about the snooping, on 15 November, saying, ''a Saheb was taking great personal interest'' in the private life of the woman - her movements and relationships.

The authenticity of the taped conversations between Shah and Singhal, released in November by Cobrapost and Gulail, however, could not be confirmed and there was nothing in the taped conversations to support their claim.

The new tapes contain alleged phone conversations between Singhal and another IPS officer, AK Sharma.

Singhal is an accused in the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter killing case. Sharma, a former IG of the state intelligence bureau, is now joint commissioner of Ahmedabad police crime branch.

The BJP, meanwhile, said the woman's father has demanded protection for her. He has also sought to put an end to the row. He wrote to the National Commission for Women and said his daughter wanted no further probe, as was being politically demanded.

BJP leader Arun Jaitley on Thursday said the party will challenge the centre's move to institute a Commission of Inquiry into the alleged snooping and termed it an ''affront'' to the states.

"This action legally is a suspect and liable for challenge. I am sure it will be legally challenged in courts. The setting up of this commission violates the federal structure of the Constitution," he said.

Jaitley said the Congress is fighting Narendra Modi "not politically but through investigative agencies and now through a Commission of Inquiry".

Jaitley said he hoped other chief ministers will join in the protest against this action.

BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman likened the cabinet move to a witch-hunt.