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India: Saheb is Watching - Questions re the illegal surveillance in Gujarat

25 November 2013

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Dawn, 18 November 2013

There’s a rule book, Modi Saheb

Amit Baruah

Investigations by two websites, who accessed conversations between a senior Gujarat police official and Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s close aide Amit Shah, have again emphasised that the man who wants to be India’s Prime Minister has no rule book.

“Audio tapes reveal the illegal surveillance of a young woman from Bangalore in 2009 ordered by [Modi aide] Amit Shah for his ‘Saheb’. The police followed her inside malls, restaurants, gyms, even when she visited relatives, went to see her mother at a hospital, took a flight or checked into a hotel,” the Cobrapost and Gulail websites said.

They said that G.L. Singhal, an Indian Police Service officer, accused in the Ishrat Jahan ecounter death of 2004, handed over hundreds of audio recordings to the Central Bureau of Investigation detailing the illegal surveillance maintained on the woman.

After the snooping allegations were made at a press conference at the Press Club in Delhi Friday, a gentleman claiming to be the lady’s father, Pranlal Soni, said the family had long-standing relations with Modi and had asked the Chief Minister to “take care” of her.

The father’s statement confirmed the identity of “saheb” as none other than Narendra Modi. Till the statement came out, the identity of “saheb” could only be speculated upon, but Soni’s statement pointed directly to Chief Minister Modi.

The assertion appeared to be a desperate attempt by the BJP to salvage the reputation of Modi, projected by the party as a squeaky clean man who can do no wrong.

Whatever be the nature of his relationship with the woman he put under surveillance, one thing is clear – given the fact that she’s not an accused or wanted in any case, the snooping was totally illegal.

Listen to the audio tapes and it’s clear that the then Minister of State for Home in Gujarat Amit Shah was desperate to keep tabs on the woman’s every move

A minute-to-minute account of where she went and who she met was being maintained and conveyed by the policemen who, too, were party to the alleged illegality of the snooping operation.

And, here’s another twist.

One of the persons mentioned in the tapes is Pradeep Sharma, an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, also acquainted with the woman, who was put under strict phone and physical watch by the police.

Sharma alleged in a petition filed before the Supreme Court that Modi had targeted him as he was the brother of a senior Gujarat police officer who had made the mistake of not following Modi and Amit Shah’s instructions.

Sharma had also named a lady in his petition with whom he claims Modi was intimate, but agreed to make changes in his stand at the instance of the Supreme Court.

With #Saheb trending on Twitter and the print media covering the revelations, the embarrassment to Modi and the BJP continued as this blog was written Sunday.

Political parties joined the battle on expected lines, with the BJP defending Modi and the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) attacking the Gujarat Chief Minister.

“The Gujarat Government must take immediate action against [Amit] Shah and the police officers for violating the Indian Telegraph Act. They also have to be prosecuted for the crime of stalking under the recently amended provisions of the IPC related to crimes against women,” the CPI (M) said in a statement.

“However it is well known that for Amit Shah there is only one Saheb and that is Modi. What was Modi’s interest in the matter? In a case involving the Chief Minister it would be appropriate for a court investigation into Modi’s involvement and if found to be involved, he must be prosecuted,” the party release added.

It’s possible that the allegations against him will not stick and the Chief Minister will go about his business as usual.

But there’s little doubt that the latest revelations show that Modi, under whose watch Gujarat witnessed horrible communal killings and encounter deaths, is not fit to lead the Indian Republic.

All the evidence points in one direction – Mr. Modi and his associates have abused their office and powers.

India can do without the replication of his “Gujarat model” elsewhere in the country.

Outlook Magazine, Magazine

Questions For Saheb

The Modi-Shah duo owe India an explanation. We must demand it.

Saba Naqvi

Illustration by Sorit

It is both funny and sobering to hear the transcripts of BJP general secretary Amit Shah ordering the pursuit of a young lady. At one level it seems a Peter Sellers/Inspector Clouseau type of operation.

There’s Shah, sounding much like the fictional character in the Pink Panther series: “Two things have to be arranged. A watch right unto the destination!” And then, rather breathlessly: “don’t let her escape”. My favourite bit from the transcripts is this exchange between Shah and G.L. Singhal, the IPS officer who recorded all the conversations:

Amit Shah: When was the last time when that woman was seen by our men?
G.L. Singhal: She is at home only. Our staff is watching at the home only.
Shah: Did someone see her in the afternoon? She may have gone away in the morning?
Singhal: She had gone to the shopping complex for half an hour in the afternoon and returned.
Shah: At what time was she seen?
Singhal: About 1:30 pm.
Shah: Ok.
Singhal: She is in gym, got the location sir, one-and-half to two kilometres away.
Shah: Could you know the name of the gym?
Singhal: No sir, but went along with sister-in-law.
Shah: Is she still there now? Check with staff and let me know....

One may muffle a laugh at this ridiculous rigmarole, but it’s actually a very serious issue. Why was taxpayers’ money being used to set the Gujarat police to tail a woman who obviously had no criminal intent? And now that the scandal has already played out for a week, let us ask the more profound question: how can a PM candidate in the world’s largest democracy feel he need not answer such questions, or instruct his Man Friday Amit Shah to do so? Let us face the embarrassing truth the next time we start celebrating our electoral democracy. In this talkative nation, where there is a hyperactive fourth estate, top leaders never answer legitimate public questions. We can never presume to ask Sonia or Rahul Gandhi anything and now it seems that the Man-Who-Would-be PM can be even more imperious.

Modi’s supporters in the BJP have a manner of patiently stating that the Man is destined for great things and cannot be bothered to engage with every story from the “dirty tricks department” flung at him. Besides, they argue that every story has a shelf life and like the others, this too will die down. After all, all the enquiries and half the activists in the world could not tear Modi apart after the mass killings in Gujarat. So how on earth do you expect a story about stalking to damage him? But, just in case, there is also a softer strategy of persuasion. So, it has been suggested that the tailing was sought for the girl’s protection, Modi was being avuncular. But this version does not add up when we hear Shah’s frantic instructions: “Chase her, tail her, don’t let her escape, who is she talking to, follow them.... Saheb wants to know.”

We may never know the back-story to this tale. But we do know that the BJP is avoiding an answer by a strategy of diversion and deflection. Throwing muck at the Congress, the CBI and the media, where a well-known anti-Modi editor has just quit after a scandal. But the moot point must remain very simple: Modi is the PM candidate who appears to be getting some political momentum. It is our duty to keep exercising our right to ask him questions about the misuse of institutions. At the very least, we must demand that Shah explain.

As it is, the manner in which Modi has persisted in making Shah the pivot of his campaign strategy shows a complete lack of regard for institutional propriety. Shah is a murder-accused out on bail who could not enter Gujarat till a year ago. His name crops up in all sorts of bloody cases, from the riots to the encounter killings of Gujarat, and now to this stalking case. It has always been said that he is the executioner par excellence for Modi and the keeper of all his secrets. Face to face, he has a more affable personality than Modi. But none of this is relevant to the larger argument as to why this particular murder-accused is so vital to every plan Modi has for himself, his party and, indeed, the country.

What is significant about the snooping/stalking case is that it actually moves out of the secular/communal paradigm within which all debates about Modi are conducted. This is about propriety and misuse of institutions. We must delink it from other the other issues involving Modi and see this story for the facts and distortions it reveals. He would want it to be part of the narrative of the “secularists’ attack”. It is not.

See also:

Tapping could lead to trouble, cops had warned Modi govt

Fresh trouble brews for the govt as papers available with Mirror shows babus and officers in the intelligence bureau had proposed a code on phone tapping, but Amit Shah cold-shouldered the idea; he kept ordering interception of phones of politicians, bureaucrats, top cops and journos

Deepal Trivedi (November 25, 2013)


The above content from Dawn and from Outlook magazine are reproduced here in public interest and for educational and non commercial use

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