March 18, 2021 3:49:21 am
The Rajasthan Assembly witnessed unruly scenes — for the second consecutive day — over the phone tapping issue. While the BJP demanded a CBI inquiry and stormed the well, the government dared the Opposition that all ruling party MLAs will resign if it can prove the allegations.
As per the agreement reached after Tuesday’s impasse, Speaker C P Joshi invited the Opposition to speak on the issue after the Question Hour. Leader of Opposition Gulab Chand Kataria cited Section 419 (A) of The Indian Telegraph (Amendment) Rules, 2007 and said that in the case of a state, the Home Secretary or a person authorised by him, not below the rank of Joint Secretary, can authorise phone tapping.
Referring to Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, Kataria said, “It saddens me that a person who is inspired by Gandhi said that if any phones were tapped, I’ll give in my resignation. And on 18th [July, 2020], the state’s Home Secretary said that he has no knowledge of phone tapping – the person who has to authorise phone tapping is saying this. The same day, the Chief Secretary also said that he has no such knowledge.”
“Now, when the CM, CS and the Home Secretary denied that phones were tapped, then how were phones tapped? I believe that CM’s Officer on Special Duty (Lokesh) Sharma made three (audio) clips viral. Those clips contained who (Union Minister) Gajendra (Singh Shekhawat) ji spoke to, who (Congress MLA) Bhanwarlal (Sharma) spoke to, who (then Tourism Minister) Vishvendra Singh ji spoke to,” Kataria said.
“And then this was made the basis of FIR lodged with Special Operations Group (SOG) by government Chief Whip (Mahesh Joshi). Now who gave the OSD any right to make such a clip, make it go viral, and then get the Chief Whip to file an FIR. Three persons were then arrested – Sanjay (Jain), Bharat (Malani) and Ashok Chauhan – and were in jail for a long time,” he said, adding that now that the government has “denied that phones were tapped, did God send you a message that such and such thing will happen?”
BJP state president Satish Poonia said that phone tapping indicates “Emergency” and cited similar controversies from the past. “My question is, were the tapes genuine and whether Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) was followed.”
Deputy Leader of Opposition Rajendra Rathore said that once the contents of audio clips were published, Rajasthan Police sent notices to Rajasthan Patrika and Dainik Bhaskar asking them the basis of the audio clips. He said the newspapers replied that the audio clips were issued to them through a phone number belonging to “OSD to CM, Lokesh Sharma”. He also said that Joshi, while submitting the audio clips, had “verified” that the information he is providing to the investigation agencies is as per his “private knowledge.”
“So, as per your private knowledge, you must also have information about phone tapping. Governments have fallen over tapping,” Rathore said.
In his reply, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Shanti Dhariwal said that in his Assembly question regarding phone tapping, Kalicharan Saraf had not given any names, nor had he asked about any particular incident. He said the Centre and state governments are authorised to preserve public order and prevent a crime from taking place. He said that it was in that context that police officials were granted authorisation to intercept phones of Ashok Singh and Bharat Malani over “illegal weapons and explosives”. “They are not public representatives. When phones of these two were intercepted, the political conversations too came up, where they were talking about exchange of money, toppling of the government,” Dhariwal said.
Dhariwal also read excerpts from CM’s address and comments last year, where Gehlot had said that he will leave politics if charges are proved that phones of MPs and MLAs were tapped, or if he had doctored the tapes to save his government. “He is ready even today,” Dhariwal said.
He said that if it is proved that police personnel “intercepted the phones without authorisation, I am ready to give my resignation right now… Prove that, the CM is ready to resign… all of us are ready to resign.”
“We have not breached any member’s privacy, nor will we do so in future. If any member has a complaint, if their privacy is breached, come forward,” Dhariwal said. However, no MLA came forward.
Dhariwal said that in the FIRs, the name of one Gajendra Singh, “who is talking with Sanjay Jain about toppling the government”, also cropped up. “Now who is this Gajendra Singh, why isn’t he cooperating in the investigation?”
He said that the main reason why BJP keeps raising the phone tapping issue is because it wants to save Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat. “If he is in the clear, why is he avoiding the test? For three days, continuously, top SOG officials kept visiting his house and office, asking for a voice test. What objection does he have? Will he give now,” Dhariwal asked.
Defending the CM’s OSD, he said that “If Lokesh Sharma gets something and forwards it on a WhatsApp group, what sin has he committed? Don’t you do it too? And why shouldn’t he send?…You say he made it viral, why shouldn’t he make it viral? You say that Lokesh Sharma made the clippings. Give evidence.”
On accusations against Mahesh Joshi, Dhariwal said that in all the three FIRs lodged by him, the first words are that he got information about the audio clips “looking at news running on television, and seeing the audio clips”.
On Poonia’s question whether the audio clips are genuine, he said, “give voice samples, it’ll be verified. The burden of proof on all your allegations is on you.” Dhariwal then demanded that the Opposition should apologise for raising the issue without basing it on facts.
Rathore then stood up and demanded a CBI inquiry. In retaliation, Dhariwal then levelled allegations against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress MLAs waved placards with a news report on PM Modi.
Enraged, Opposition MLAs stormed the well and started chanting slogans. Congress MLAs shot back and Cabinet minister Udaylal Anjana and Kataria allegedly shouted at each other. As a ruckus ensued, Joshi declared an end of debate around 1 pm and subsequently adjourned the House for half an hour.
The House was again adjourned for half an hour and reconvened at 2 pm. With the Opposition MLAs still in the well, Speaker C P Joshi said that it is the responsibility of everyone to ensure that no derogatory comments are made on the Prime Minister, President, CM and which weaken the constitutional traditions. He said that he will have any such comments expunged. As for comments on the Leader of Opposition, he said that he has spoken to “Udaylal ji, and he said that he respects Kataria ji”. Joshi then requested the BJP MLAs to go back to their seats and they agreed.
Earlier, when the debate began, Kataria had also prayed that BJP MLA Madan Dilawar, who was suspended from the Assembly for seven days after disrupting Independent MLA Sanyam Lodha’s speech, be forgiven and brought back to the House. Joshi then asked Dhariwal to move a motion to allow him back inside the Assembly. A proposal was “deemed to be passed” and Dilawar entered the Assembly a few minutes later.
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