High power listening devices were reported to be found in the bedroom of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Nitin Gadkari's Teen Murti Lane residence in New Delhi. Gadkari is the Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways. While the minister has called the reports "highly speculative", the media is rife with theories on who may have planted the devices and when.
Gadkari has continued to deny that there is any base to these reports.
Reports in a section of the media about listening devices having been found at my New Delhi residence are highly speculative
As already stated, I reiterate that no devices were found at my residence anywhere
— Nitin Gadkari (@nitin_gadkari) July 28, 2014
Congress raised the issue during question hour in the Rajya Sabha today demanding answers from the government on the snooping row. Home Minister, Rajnath Singh made a statement on the issue. "There is no truth to the media reports," he said. The ensuing uproar led to adjournment of the Rajya Sabha four times, twice during the question hour and twice during Zero Hour. The issue was raised in the Lok Sabha as well with the Opposition demanding that the government give a statement on the matter. Congress asked for a Joint Parliamentary Committee to investigate the incident but the government dismissed that matter as a 'non-issue'. Read more on the discussion in the Parliament here.
Gadkari told ANI that the reports were completely "baseless and false". "First they said Mumbai home then Delhi home,totally false," he said. On the remarks made by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy on US involvement in the snooping, he said "Ask Swamy(Subramanian) ji himself about what he is saying."
ANI reported that before the Parliament session began, both Gadkari and Law Minister Ravi Shankar had refused to comment on the issue. Dr.Jitendra Singh, Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office, had denied any knowledge of the matter.
After its inital silence, BJP had made a statement on the matter yesterday. Party spokesperson Nalin Kohli said to NDTV, "Over the last year, it was widely believed the BJP would come to power. So one might not be surprised if there was an interest in information gathering... but in terms of putting listening devices and eavesdropping systematically, that isn't right."
The Sunday Guardian reported that the bugs were found accidentally. It is alleged that the listening devices were of high-quality and of a type normally used by western agencies, the report said, "particularly the CIA and the National Security Agency".
A close aide of the minister is said to have denied the reports. Media reports say that the matter has not been reported to the Intelligence Bureau (IB). An official from the IB is quoted as saying, "The IB regularly sweeps offices of ministers who handle sensitive ministries at their request. But as far as residences are concerned, I don’t think the IB has conducted such an exercise." A senior intelligence officer reportedly said that he was sure that the reports of bugging pertained to Gadkari's Mumbai residence.
Media reports yesterday alleged that the homes of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Home Minister Rajnath Singh may also have been bugged.
Minister State for Home, Kiran Rijiju said that he cannot take steps for an investigation. "Mr Gadkari has himself called it speculation. If so, how can we intervene?" he said.
Reactions from the Congress
Several Congress leaders have called for investigations into these reports and asked that the government look into the matter. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called for an investigation into reports of the bugging devices, "If ministers' houses are bugged, then it is not a good omen. It should be investigated. How can it happen? It should be explained by the government in the House." He also asked the government to explain the issue in Parliament. Read more.
"Government should give a statement in Parliament as to what really is the reality in the Nitin Gadkari bugging case," echoed National Congress Party leader, Tariq Anwar told ANI.
"If such a thing has appeared in the public space as you point out that perhaps an inquiry has been ordered, then the full facts of that inquiry should be laid on the floor of Parliament so that the nation knows as to whether there is any truth to it or not," Congress leader and former Minister of Information and Broadcasting, ManishTewari said.
"It reflects a certain lack of faith amongst ministerial colleagues and an absence of mutual trust. It's time that both Gadkari and also the BJP and government come clean on the issue and place before the people of the country if at all there was bugging and if there was snooping being done... at whose instance and at whose authority it has been done. And what is the reason if any for conducting such snooping. All these issues need to be clarified both by the BJP as well as the Prime Minister and the Home Minister in the larger interest of people," Haryana MLA Randeep Surjewala said. Read more.
However, Congress leader Digvijaya Singh was quoted as saying, "If Nitin Gadkari is denying his house was bugged, that's the end of this issue."
Could the US National Security Agency be involved?
In 2010, it was reported that the United States' National Security Agency (NSA) was spying on several organisations around the world. Earlier this year, classified documents revealed that the NSA had been spying on several political parties as well as international entities in the world including the BJP in India, the People's Party in Pakistan and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. A certification by the Foreign Intellignce Surveillance Court allowed the NSA to collect such intelligence.
The BJP had called the act a gross violation of India's privacy and sovereignty as a democratic nation.
Previous cases of snooping in India
This year, it was alleged that the Gujarat government has illegally snooped on a young girl on behest of Amit Shah. A judicial commission inquiry was to be formed to look into the incident.
In September 2012, BJP leader Yashwant Sinha alleged that P Chidambaram had ordered to tap his phone as he had accused the latter in the issue of Aircel-Maxis deal. Earlier that year, a monitoring device had been found in the office of the then Defence Minister AK Antony.
In 2011, there were reports that then Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's office was bugged. At least 16 adhesive-type gum sticks were found in different rooms of the Finance Ministry including three under Mukherjee's own table.
Reactions on Twitter:
Minister(Nitin Gadkari) has already denied the allegation, so Home Ministry has nothing to say: Home Ministry Sources on bugging issue
— ANI (@ANI_news) July 28, 2014
If US was not snooping on Gadkari then does it mean SnoopGate experienced BJP top leadership is snooping on him??!! pic.twitter.com/0jzxYsbnXj
— Manvendra Singh Rana (@ms_rana) July 28, 2014
I condemn snooping on Gadkari. I dislike him, but he has rights too.
— Vidyut (@Vidyut) July 28, 2014
Gadkari says his house wasn't bugged, but @Swamy39 insists Gadkari was spied by US agency. Both are in BJP, who is right?
— milind khandekar (@milindkhandekar) July 28, 2014
#Gadkari. Rule of thumb in Del, rumours usually have a basis. Denial by Gadkari & SSwamy's misdirection make NDA as suspect. Standard IB op.
— K. C. Singh (@ambkcsingh) July 28, 2014