As a rule, I am against discussing private affairs of individuals. I believe morality is not something that should be demanded from any person including our leaders. Morality can be explained, but not enforced. There are no universal values of morality, and most people have double standards when it comes to adherence to moral principles. Therefore, when issues involving morality and concerning politicians are out in the public domain, my first preference is to ignore it.
The current disclosures about a snooping carried out by elements of Gujarat Police against a young woman architect looks like an issue that involves morality. If the bits and pieces of information coming into the public domain are to be believed, this issue involved a relationship that falls under some of the notions of an immoral relationship. However, for the reasons already stated, let me treat this as a snooping saga, rather than as a stalking saga.
This snooping scandal, however, has issues far more important than adherence to the notions of morality by a politician aspiring to be the Prime Minister of India. The transcripts of the recorded conversations (as published by Cobra Post) that form the basis of this issue show how the Anti-Terrorist Squad and Crime Branch personnel were misused by the political leadership of Gujarat State, to further their personal agenda. What these conversations suggest is too dangerous for a democratic society.
I heard people dismissing the entire issue as a conspiracy of Congress. While I do not dismiss the role of Congress and/ or CBI in making these recorded conversations available to the concerned journalists, it takes the kind of devotion displayed by devotees of Asaram, to dismiss the issue as a Congress conspiracy. Congress could not have conspired to make Narendra Modi’s blue-eyed (then) Minister Amit Shah and his once blue-eyed IPS officer G.L. Singhal to enter into such a conversation and implicate their Saheb into something as bizarre as this incident. Nor could have Congress persuaded an IPS Officer to hand over recorded conversations that implicate himself in too many illegal deeds, including coldblooded murders, also known as fake encounters (Apparently, it took the suicide of a teenage boy to make his father repentant of his crimes, and turn an approver).
Mr. Singhal’s statement to CBI recorded on April 17, 2013 reads as follows: “In the latter half of 2009, when I was posted as SP (Operations) in the Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) at Ahmedabad, Shri Amit Shah had directed me several times to watch the movements of Shri Pradeep Sharma, who was then posted as Municipal Commissioner, Bhavnagar. He had also asked me to put a watch on a young woman named Madhuri (Pseudonym used by the websites to protect the identity of the lady concerned). I had deputed some men of the Crime Branch (as ATS was short of subordinate staff) to follow her, as directed by Shri Amit Shah”. According to the reports on June 09, 2013 Mr. Singhal had handed over recordings to the CBI which was investigating the alleged fake encounter killing of Ishrat Jahan.
When read with the transcripts of the recorded conversations, above statement clearly shows that operation involved round the clock aggressive surveillance of two individuals- Pradeep Sharma, IAS and the lady referred to as Madhuri, as per the instructions from Saheb. The transcripts of the conversations between Amit Shah and Singhal clearly indicate the extent of surveillance over the two individuals. Couple of samples from the transcripts will give the reader an idea about the nature of surveillance:
“Amit Shah: And where is the lady?
G.L.Singhal: She is sitting at Navrangpura near Have More.
Amit Shah:: With that boy only ?
G.L.Singhal: Yes sir. With that boy
Amit Shah:: I want him in jail for as many days as Vanjara has been jailed for.
G.L.Singhal: Yes yes.
Amit Shah: You be courageous and strong.
G.L.Singhal: Undoubtedly sir…
Amit Shah: No matter how big the person, put him in jail
G.L.Singhal: Right sir”
“G.L.Singhal: We have deployed men at hotel as well, at both the places
Amit Shah: Is there only one door or any other than that ?
G.L.Singhal: There are two doors and men deployed at both the doors at the hotel as well
Amit Shah: They should not escape in closed car.
G.L.Singhal: We will come to know sir and in case they come out, we will be informed by our men deployed at the hotel”
The websites, however, did not name the Saheb. It was BJP’s official spokespersons who confirmed the real identity of Saheb, with a letter from father of Ms. Madhuri (I will stick to Madhuri, though her real name is now in the public domain) to that effect. Mr. Soni admitted that it was none other than the CM of Gujarat and PM candidate of BJP, Mr. Narendra Modi who ordered the snooping at his request. However, he failed to convince about the kind of threat that called for this kind of aggressive surveillance.
We have already read the statement of Singhal. We have not heard from Amit Shah, though he has access to press, 24x7. We also have not heard anything from Narendra Modi though he speaks at rallies almost every day, and on everything under the sun. All indications are that none of the parties is contesting the contents of the transcripts. Their only defense is that it is a conspiracy of Congress.
In the meanwhile, there were reports coming out about a company named Ecolibrium Energy Private Limited that received a very favourable break, thanks to Gujarat government. This company is promoted by Soni family and, reportedly, their growth was not completely above board as they had no prior experience in their chosen field of operations (smart grids). These favours were cited as the reason behind the letter from Mr. Soni, though the company maintains that they have not received any untoward benefits.
Another parallel development was the affidavit filed by Mr. Pradeep Sharma, IAS in a writ petition filed by him before the Supreme Court of India. He alleged that the victimization he is facing at the hands of Gujarat government is a result of Mr. Modi’s suspicion that he may be having access to a certain CD that could be very damaging for Modi. According to him, Modi suspected that Mr. Sharma may have been privy to certain secrets through Madhuri. The transcripts do corroborate this allegation of Mr. Sharma.
Now coming back to the main issue, irrespective of what the real reason behind the whole issue was, clearly there was a gross misuse of state machinery. At least two top officials of the relevant time have confirmed that there was no such surveillance and telephone tapping organized through legal measures. Unless Modi or Shah volunteers to share some convincing reasons such as Madhuri was an IM operative out to kill Modi, this action cannot be ‘justified’. There were too many illegal acts committed under this episode.
We have to see this incidence in the light of certain other allegations against Modi and Shah. Shah is out on bail in the fake encounter case. There are many such cases at different stages of legal process, and Modi has never been clear of suspicion about his role in them. Even the efforts to prosecute Modi for his alleged acts and omissions during 2002 riots are still continuing. In all these cases, Modi has so far managed to convince a section of people that he was doing a favour by indulging in those activities, by demonizing the victims. It does not matter that even if the victims were demons as alleged by Modi and his supporters, Indian laws do not permit such illegal elimination. However, nationalism and religious sentiments were sufficient to keep up the show.
I am under no illusion that such activities are limited to Narendra Modi. I am sure there must be other CMs and leaders from all parties who have misused state machineries, to push their personal agenda. However, when you present yourself to the nation as a real alternative, you should prove it, not by words but deeds. As of now, Modi’s alleged deeds in this snooping saga cannot be whitewashed by the usual nationalist or secular-communal arguments.
It is in this context that the case assumes importance. Modi has been smart enough to keep safe from the arms of law, in all the serious allegations, for want of proof. Here comes a case where the proof is presented even before the allegation is made. The matter is also before the Supreme Court, and soon the Court will have to take a position. No matter how long Modi remains silent, this issue refuses to die down.
Modi cannot even be sure who his real friends or enemies are. For example, Shiv Sena’s mouthpiece Saamna reported that Congress is working on a “Narendra Modi Sex CD”. Report says there are two actresses (one Tamil and one Panjabi) kept ready for the shoot, but failed to report who will act as Narendra Modi. Is this news really against Congress, or is it against Modi? I would think the latter since everyone will now keep talking about the impending release of a sex CD involving Modi. Similar was the effect of some of the BJP arguments that drew parallel between this case and the sexual assault/harassment case involving Tarun Tejpal of Tehelka.
The tail of the proverbial elephant that managed to successfully pass through the hole is now stuck at the hole! Will it manage to free its tail and go on to become the King?
PS: I admit my bias against Narendra Modi, and I believe the reasons are strong enough. However, I have tried my best to be objective in my thoughts.