Fuming opposition set to derail parliament over phone taps

Last Updated: Sat, Apr 24, 2010 12:00 hrs

Opposition parties Saturday vowed to cripple parliament Monday over a published report that the government had tapped telephones of four key political leaders including two from the ranks of the Congress party and the ruling alliance.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accused the Congress party of taking India back to the 'Emergency' days of 1975-77 by reportedly ordering the tapping of the telephones of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal-United (JD-U), Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh, Agriculture Minister and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar and Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) general secretary Prakash Karat.

In a detailed statement, the CPI-M asked the government to own up responsibility in the matter and take action against those who ordered the surveillance.

'Protecting the covert activities of the intelligence and security agencies cannot be made the pretext for a cover-up,' the CPI-M said in a statement, referring to the explosive revelations in the newsmagazine Outlook.

'The report shows that the government is using the intelligence and security agencies to serve its political purpose to spy upon opposition leaders and to keep track of even its own allies and party leaders,' the CPI-M said.

The Outlook expose comes at a time when the Congress is already battling the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket storm that has led to the exit of one minister and cast a shadow on two others including Pawar and ahead of crucial voting in parliament on the national budget for 2010-11.

The opposition has been threatening to introduce cut motions in the Lok Sabha in a bid to defeat the finance bill, a development that could seriously embarrass the Congress-led government.

The BJP accused the Congress of going back to the 'Emergency' rule of then prime minister Indira Gandhi when scores of opposition leaders were jailed and democratic rights were curbed.

'This is completely undemocratic. Nothing justifies it. It indicates the Congress is getting back to Emergency days mindset,' BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman told IANS.

Sitharaman said the BJP planned to raise the issue when parliament meets Monday.

The government has not commented on the Outlook report so far. The Congress has come out with a guarded reaction, saying it was for the government to say if phones were tapped and whether it was legal.

'Nobody can justify illegal phone tapping but in this case it is for the for the government to throw light on whether phones were tapped,' Congress spokesman Shakeel Ahmed said.

Pawar's NCP, a key member of the UPA government, was also guarded in its response. 'It (phone tapping) is not confirmed yet. Wait for some concrete evidence,' NCP leader Tariq Anwar said.

Nitish Kumar reacted angrily in Bihar. His JD-U colleague Rajya Sabha member Ali Anwar Ansari said: 'It is murder of democracy. The Congress has a track record of stifling democracy.'

Demanding a response from the government, he said the party would strongly raise the issue in parliament Monday.

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