Election time is an opportunity for big business not only for PR agencies, banner makers, but also for detective agencies.
This is the time when political parties and their candidates hire private detectives in a big way to get information on political rivals. Every bit of information about rivals is sought so that it can be used to good effect during the campaign. Not even the personal lives of opponents is spared.
In the 2009 parliamentary elections, detective agencies were in demand, but this time around more and more parties and their nominees are approaching these agencies. Budget appears to be no constraint, because the candidates are willing to pay any amount since the stakes for them are very high.
Usha Shetty, director of Venus Detectives, said, "Yes..We have been hired by several candidates and parties to collect information on their opponents. They want information about what their rivals are doing, where they are getting their funds from etc. It is boom time for us."
Asked who all have approached her agency, Shetty replied: "I cannot disclose that. Because it would be unprofessional."
Naman Jain, managing director of New Delhi-based detective agency Sleuths India, too admitted that his company has been approached by several parties. "We essentially do background checks and gather information about the persons concerned. But, we, as a matter of policy, do not tail the rivals of any candidate. It is not only unethical, but also dangerous because if a sleuth is caught then he may be accused of malafide intentions like assault. Though it is not illegal to tail anyone, we avoid it as a matter of policy. It is a grey area, in any case." he said.
"Before granting ticket, a party would want to have full details about its potential candidate. So, it asks us to furnish complete information about the persons concerned," Jain added.
Other agencies contacted by dna admitted that they have accepted assignments in Mumbai, Delhi and other cities for preparing dossiers on rivals and for keeping close watch on their activities.
On an average, an agency charges upwards of Rs5 lakh per month for tailing a candidate. An additional Rs 3 lakh is charged for penetrating the office of a candidate by planting moles.
An agency owner said, "There is also great demand for electronic snooping devices."
Sachin Vaze, who is a former crime branch officer, is now offering software called mobicid which can be downloaded into mobile phones. This, in turn, helps one hear the conversations of the targeted persons and also access SMS and WhatsApp messages. "On an average, we have 8,000 downloads per month. But, ever since the polls were announced, the downloads have increased."
It is illegal to snoop on others' mobiles, but Vaze's contention is that the onus of obtaining permission from the government before using his software is on the customer.