New Delhi: The Centre on Thursday waded into the controversy over the snooping allegedly involving Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi by deciding to set up a Judicial Commission of Inquiry to go into charges of spying on a young woman in 2009.
Brushing aside opposition from BJP and the state government, the Union Cabinet took the decision under the Commissions of Inquiry Act under which the Modi government has already set up a similar panel.
"The Cabinet has approved a proposal to set up a Commission of Inquiry under Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952, to look into the incidents of physical/electronic surveillance in the states of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh and the National Capital Territory of Delhi, allegedly without authorisation," an official release said.
The Central Commission is likely to be headed by a retired Supreme Court judge and will be asked to submit its report within three months, official sources said.
The Centre's decision overrules the contention of the Gujarat government that the matter was a state subject and that it has already appointed a Commission to probe it.
The Union Cabinet's decision came against the backdrop of fresh claims that the alleged snooping was conducted beyond the state of Gujarat.
The controversy broke out more than a month ago when two news portals released CDs of purported telephonic conversations between Modi aide and the then Gujarat Home Minister Amit Shah and two top state police officials relating to snooping on a woman.
The conversations, purportedly between August and September 2009, do not specifically mention Modi by name but refers to a "saheb", which the portals claimed was the Gujarat Chief Minister at whose instance the snooping was done.
One of the two portals, gulail.com, had on Tuesday claimed that the snooping was not confined to Gujarat but extended to Karnataka as well.
The proposal for setting up the probe panel was mooted by the Home Ministry, which had suggested that it should be headed by a sitting or a retired Supreme Court Judge.
The Cabinet decision came under strong attack from BJP, which said it smacks of 'political vindictiveness' and 'witch-hunt' by Congress to 'oppress' Modi. Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley said the decision is liable to be challenged in the Supreme Court.
BJP President Rajnath Singh slammed the move by the Central government.
"Attempts have been made by Congress to harass Narendra Modi, but truth will be revealed," BJP President Rajnath Singh told reporters on the issue. Rajnath Singh added that Modi is under no pressure with the developments.
Congress leader Digvijaya Singh welcomed the decision, saying it should have happened much earlier.
Under the Commission of Inquiry Act, the Centre or the state government cannot appoint an inquiry commission into a matter on which one of the two governments have already set up such a panel.
However, Section 3 provides for the Centre to appointing a Commission if it is of the opinion that the scope of the Inquiry should be extended to two or more states.
The snoopging row led to a raging political controversy with Congress and other parties attacking the Modi government of intruding into the privacy of a woman by misusing the police machinery.
The BJP and the state government has been maintaining that the surveillance was done at the request of the woman's father for her security. Modi has maintained stoic silence on the issue.
The web portal had also claimed that the move was in violation of Indian Telegraph Rule 419 (A) and the Gujarat Government’s own notification (dated 29th March 1997), which clearly state that a phone can be tapped only with the written authorisation of the Union Home Secretary or state Home Secretary.
The Gujarat Police appeared to have tapped the telephone of the woman when she was also in Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka, besides Gujarat, without taking any authorisation from the Union Home Secretary, the sources said.
Next: Clear case of political vindictiveness, it is a witch-hunt: BJP
Clear case of political vindictiveness, it is a witch-hunt: BJP
BJP today slammed the Government for setting up an inquiry into alleged snooping on a woman in Gujarat, saying it smacks of political vindictiveness and a witch-hunt targeting Narendra Modi while indicating it will be challenged in court for 'violation' of Centre-state ties.
The opposition party hoped Chief Ministers from other parties will join the protest against the Centre's move which, it alleged, was an 'affront' to states as it attacked the federal structure.
It also accused Congress of using 'fascist' and 'emergency-like' mindset in settling political scores with Modi, BJP's prime ministerial candidate, and of trying to 'oppress' him by initiating a probe on an issue which is already under investigation by a state-appointed panel.
"This action legally is a suspect and liable for challenge. I am sure it will be legally challenged in courts. The setting up of this Commission (of Inquiry) violates the federal structure of the Constitution. It is an affront to the States. I hope other Chief Ministers also join in the protest against this action," Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley said.
BJP Spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said, "It is a clear case of political vindictiveness, it is a witch-hunt.... Clearly it is the fascist Congress with its emergency mindset that has taken such a decision. BJP shall meet all the challenges and fight at every platform."
"It is also an attack on the Centre-State relations," she said, adding that "it is politically-motivated and not for justice". Questioning the rationale behind establishing the inquiry, she said the enthusiasm with which it has been set up clearly shows where the government's priorities lie.
"The setting up of an inquiry into a matter which is entirely a state subject, when an inquiry has already been initiated, the Union government is showing extra-ordinary exuberance. "It smacks of the Congress party's attitude to use any method to oppress its political opponent. It is a clear case of Congress getting back at Narendra Modi," she said.
Jaitley said, "This action is politically motivated...The setting up of a parallel Commission by the central government ostensibly on the pretext of this issue covering more than one state is without any basis."
He said the Congress has not learnt from the drubbing it got in the recent elections and has continued with its strategy of fighting Narendra Modi 'not politically but through investigative agencies and now through a Commission of Inquiry'.
Sitharaman said the party had hoped that after the defeat of Congress in the recent Assembly polls, it would have learnt its lessons but it is continuing with its 'emergency' and 'fascist' mindset.
She claimed Congress was rattled after being repeatedly rejected by the public and is thus now using every method to settle political scores with Modi as it is unable to politically match him.