The Centre has sought a report from the Rajasthan government over alleged phone-tapping a day after the state filed FIRs over two audio tapes purportedly showing a plot to topple it.
The Congress government in the state, that is fighting a revolt by 19 MLAs, had accused the BJP of being behind the conspiracy. The BJP on Saturday said this showed that phones of political leaders in the state were being tapped, and demanded a CBI probe.
Late on Saturday evening, PTI reported that the Union Home Ministry had sent a communication to the Rajasthan Chief Secretary, seeking a report on the allegations of phone tapping.
The BJP said the authorities concerned had not given permission for such “tapping”. “Home and chief secretaries have denied giving permission… Is it not a violation of our civil rights to tap phones without authorisation?” the party said.
The Congress hit back saying the BJP’s remarks amounted to an “admission of guilt” by it in the “murder of democracy” in the state, and that the party only seemed worried about “why did we get recorded and was the recording legitimate”.
The Ashok Gehlot government Saturday secured the support of the two Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) MLAs in the Rajasthan Assembly, taking the number of legislators backing it (excluding the 19 rebels) to 103 in a House of 200. The government claims at least 109 are with it. Earlier, the BTP had asked the two to abstain from backing any side in case of a test vote.
The Congress had on Friday cited the two audio tapes, purportedly featuring Union minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat and rebel Congress MLA Bhanwarlal Sharma conspiring to topple the Ashok Gehlot government, seeking their arrest. The Special Operation Group (SOG) of the Rajasthan Police has registered criminal cases in the matter.
The BJP has described the audio clips as “manufactured”, and Shekhawat has said the voice in the clips was not his.
Seeking a CBI probe into the “saga of illegalities and concocted lies” as well as the “unconstitutional” tapping of phones by the Rajasthan government, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra Saturday said that senior Congress leaders, including Gehlot, have been calling the audio clips authentic, though the FIRs registered by the police do not say so.
Opinion | No time for toppling governments
“These are serious questions that we want to ask the Congress high command and Ashok Gehlot. Was phone-tapping done? Assuming that you’ve tapped phones, was the SOP followed? Did the Congress government in Rajasthan use unconstitutional ways to save themselves?” Patra asked at a press conference.
Were phones of people in politics being tapped, he added. “Is it not a case of veiled emergency in Rajasthan?”
Patra also accused the Congress of having a history of “phone tapping and bugging”, going on to refer to a row in the previous UPA government.
He also called the political crisis in Rajasthan an outcome of the feud between Gehlot and rebel Congress leader Sachin Pilot. “The political drama… is a cocktail of conspiracies, concocted stories, manufactured lies and illegalities… The sin was theirs,” Patra said.
Former Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje, whose absence from Jaipur and silence on the whole matter has been remarked upon, said it was wrong to blame the BJP for it. Saying “people are paying for the discord in the Congress”, Raje said, “There is no point dragging the BJP and its leaders’ names through the mud.”
With a BJP ally, Nagaur MP Hanuman Beniwal, alleging that Raje was trying to save the Gehlot government, she tweeted, “I have been serving the public as a loyal worker of the party for the last three decades and stand with the party and its ideology.”
On whether it wanted the Gehlot government out, senior BJP leader G C Kataria said in Jaipur, “We do not want a floor test. But, if Ashok Gehlotji thinks he has the majority, he should prove it in the Assembly.”
The Congress said the demand for a CBI probe was an admission by the BJP of its role in the matter. “We all witnessed over the last week the daylight murder of democracy being attempted by the BJP… The BJP has now admitted its role… Their only grievance was that when we were murdering, why were we getting recorded and, if we were getting recorded, was it legal,” Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera said in Delhi.
Khera added that the fact that the SOG team that had gone to a hotel in Manesar, Haryana, to collect voice samples of the rebel ministers and MLAs staying there as a part of the investigation into the audio tapes, was stopped by the Haryana Police revealed the role of the BJP. He said the MLAs were allowed to “quietly and surreptitiously… escape from the back door of the hotel”.
Addressing the media in Jaipur, Rajasthan Congress president Govind Singh Dostara said: “Will Sachin Pilot ji and his associate Congress MLAs tell us why they don’t trust the police of their own state? How come they trust the police of the BJP government in Haryana?”
The party added that it had heard that attempts were being made to take the MLAs to another BJP-ruled state, Karnataka.
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