The alleged bugging of Union minister Nitin Gadkari’s residence rocked both Houses of Parliament on Wednesday with the Opposition in Rajya Sabha demanding a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the matter. Ruling out any probe, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said the news reports were “false and baseless”.
“When the news itself is false and baseless, the question of an inquiry does not arise,” Singh told the Lok Sabha, adding that Gadkari had denied the incident and the reports should not be taken seriously.
Raising the matter in the Lok Sabha, Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge wanted to know how many ministers, MPs, and officials’ phones were being tapped by the government.
In the Rajya Sabha, the Congress raised the issue soon after the House met for the day, with some of its members demanding an impartial probe by a JPC. The House saw four adjournments as the Congress-led Opposition remained adamant on a discussion and a thorough probe.
Raising the issue, deputy leader of Congress Anand Sharma alleged, “The government is allowing tapping of telephones on a large scale. It is a question of privacy. This is a serious matter… Here we are talking of bugging. Who has allowed it? Our demand is a thorough probe to unearth the truth. It has to be discussed in the House.” His party members raised slogans like “Modi model nahin chalega” and “We want JPC”.
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Outside the House, Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, however, told reporters that the Congress wanted a judicial inquiry. He said the demand for a JPC probe, as raised by some party members, was not the party view. He said when “50 or 60 people rise on their feet and among them somebody says something” that does not mean it was the party’s demand.
“There has to be a discussion and should culminate in an inquiry. The inquiry should be credible and impartial. A judge should inquire as he cannot be influenced by the government,” Azad said. Seeking to keep the issue alive, he said he suspected many more, including the opposition leaders, were being kept under surveillance.
He said the issue was not about one minister or two ministers. “Who knows if our telephones are not being tapped. This is not about just about the ministers. This is about the country,” he said.
Azad said the silence of the BJP on the issue is because it was carried out by an “internal agency”. The initial reaction of the BJP, he said, was to blame the UPA government. “At that point in time they did not realise who had done that. Now they are aware that it was done by somebody within the government. So they have fallen silent. It is the handiwork of somebody, some agency within the government,” he said.
He said the Congress was not satisfied with the government’s response in Parliament.
At the Congress briefing, AICC general secretary Shakeel Ahmed demanded a statement from the Prime Minister. “He should say whether his party leaders who have confirmed the bugging are wrong. We wonder whether the bugging was carried out because of inside rivalry or inner conflict within the government,” he said.
Earlier, the Home Minister told the House, “There is no truth in those media reports. The minister too has termed the reports as baseless and factually incorrect.” Singh claimed that no high-powered listening device was found at Gadkari’s residence.
“Why is the government so scared to discuss it,” said Congress leader Pramod Tiwari, whose notice for discussion on the issue after suspension of Question Hour was disallowed by the Chair. Congress Chief Whip Satyavrat Chaturvedi said, “Why are you running away from a discussion? It means the entire matter is fishy.
“There is no question of being scared. The minister has already made a statement,” retorted Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu.
As Congress members continued to demand a discussion and a probe, Deputy Chairman P J Kurien tried to restore order, saying if a member wanted to raise an issue, a notice could be given.