Modi snooping row: No more excuses

Last Updated: Fri, Nov 22, 2013 01:44 hrs

New information continues to emerge about the apparent stalking of a young female architect by the Gujarat state police and intelligence authorities, reportedly at the order of Amit Shah, who was Gujarat's minister of state for home affairs at the time.

Mr Shah had allegedly ordered the intrusive surveillance of the architect at the behest of someone mentioned on the supposed recordings of the event only as "saheb", whom many commentators have taken to mean was Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, now the prime ministerial candidate of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.

Unfortunately, the BJP has compounded the problem by attempting a heavy-handed cover-up. Several letters purportedly written by the young woman's father have been made public, in which he has claimed to have requested Mr Modi to "provide security" for her while she was in Ahmedabad. However, this explanation, such as it is, leaves too many questions open.

First, what was the authorisation for such extensive tracking, tailing and snooping? S K Saikia, then Ahmedabad's police commissioner, has told television news channel NDTV that he was not aware of any paperwork for such surveillance, and that he should have been had it been legal. If regulations were not fully followed, then it amounts to an illegal invasion of privacy, whether or not the girl's father knew about it.

Neither morally nor legally does a parent have the right to organise intrusive surveillance of their adult child, and it ill-behoves the BJP to claim otherwise. Secondly, the actual transcripts do not match the party's claimed explanation. Those recorded worry about setting a "trap" for the woman, for example, which is hardly likely if their concern is her protection.

Also incongruous, if the BJP's claims are true, is the overt and repeated concern with the company she is keeping - whether she has someone in her hotel room or not. Further, what earthly protection could someone need on a flight from Ahmedabad to Mumbai, that a policeman has to travel on it, incognito, to keep an eye on her?

Thirdly, if it is true, as reported, that local administrators paid her fuel and mobile bills on at least one occasion, the case gets even more puzzling.

Thus the BJP cannot possibly dismiss the issue as merely providing "protection", given the facts simply do not fit. The National Commission for Women has very properly requested the woman to testify. But that does not go far enough; this is not a private but a public matter. The questions are broader, and implicate the Gujarat government - was there an invasion of privacy involved?

Nor can a "clean chit" for the Gujarat government by the architect's father satisfy anyone when it has been revealed by this newspaper that the family firm was given an important commercial opportunity by that government.

The investigation of possibly illegal surveillance and allegations of abuse of power is particularly important because the administration of Narendra Modi has faced many accusations regarding the misuse of police or intelligence outfits when Mr Modi was home minister as well as chief minister.

Many policemen have testified to this, including to their personal involvement - all of which adds up to a very disquieting pattern. Investigation and transparency are doubly important when the minister who held the portfolio and ruled in the state is now a prime ministerial aspirant. True, many cases are being investigated or are now in court.

But Mr Modi has some explaining to do to the voters. And, meanwhile, the fraught politics of the situation should not stop the law from taking its course, whatever it may find.

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