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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Rajasthan phone tapping saga of leaders – Pilot vs Gehlot

Sachin Pilot, the young deputy chief minister of Rajasthan had accused his own chief minister, Ashok Gehlot of state-sponsored phone tapping of a group of MLAs who belong to his ‘group’. While Gehlot denied the accusations at the time, now it has emerged that the Rajasthan government had indeed tapped phones going by a reply it posted recently to a question asked on the assembly floor. 

With this, the bitter rivalry that has existed in the Rajasthan Congress has got a new lease of life. Gehlot is also under fire for the rapidly deteriorating law & order situation, with a string of brutal sexual assault cases being reported from the state. 

Though Gehlot has denied the allegations, it is alleged that he approved phone tapping of MLAs who had stood with Pilot during last year’s political crisis. Back then, Sachin and his group wanted the chief ministership but the high command buckled under pressure from senior Congress leadership in Rajasthan and handed over the reins to Gehlot. Allegations of BJP indulging in horse-trading were reported back then but they were proven false after Pilot agreed to become Gehlot’s deputy.

Earlier this week, a reply was posted on the website of the Rajasthan Assembly to the following question asked during the Assembly session of August 2020.

“Is it true that phone tapping cases have come up in the last days? If yes, then under which law and on whose order? Place full details on the table of the House.”

In its reply, given after a delay of several months, the government said:

“In the interest of public safety or public order, and to prevent the occurrence of a crime which might risk public safety or public order, telephones are intercepted after approval by a competent officer under the provisions of section 5(2) of The Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, and section 419 (A) of The Indian Telegraph (Amendment) Rules, 2007, as well as section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000.

Telephone interception [in this case] has been done by the Rajasthan Police under the above provision and only after obtaining permission from the competent officer.”

That Gehlot handles the Home Ministry of his state and had approved sedition charges against MLAs who supported Pilot add credence to the current tapping allegations. The fact that 11 ministerial berths still lie vacant proves deep mistrust between the chief and his deputy. Sachin’s request to be at the head of the AICC media department was something that was agreed to when he rebelled back in July 2020 but has not yet materialized.

The Rajasthan government citing ‘public safety/ public order’ has admitted that the state had tapped phones – it is believed that phones of both BJP and Congress leaders aligned with Pilot were tapped during the rebellion last year. At the time, phone conversations involving political leaders including a Union minister and prominent BJP leader were floating around.

The Gehlot administration claims it had tapped the phones of two suspects involved in smuggling of arms and explosives, and ‘accidentally’ came across conversations with politicians. It has also brazened out the fact that media outlets Rajasthan Patrika and Dainik Bhaskar told police that the audio clips in question were issued to them via WhatsApp through a phone number belonging to OSD to CM, Lokesh Sharma.

Claiming that the conversations involved plans for “exchange of money and toppling of the government”, the case was turned over to be investigated by the Special Operation Group of the Rajasthan Police and later on handed over to the Anti-corruption bureau who are still ‘investigating’. 

The tapping happened again in August of last year when Pilot loyalists were holed up in a Jaisalmer resort. It is alleged that jammers were installed so that calls could be made from just one area in the hotel and that the resort intercom was also recorded and that top police officials were entrusted with monitoring the same. The police naturally denied these allegations back then.

The real crux of the matter is that Rajasthan under Gehlot has been faltering in all aspects but the Gandhi’s know very well that under the present circumstances, Pilot will not be able to keep the whole congress flock together, the way Gehlot can. In the 200 seat assembly, the Congress has 104, and Pilot and his group barely number 20. Gehlot is a cunning leader who knows exactly how the party works.

The BJP has asked for a CBI probe of this phone tapping saga and Gehlot is now in a fix as he had earlier said that no such tapping had occurred and that all his MLAs would resign if proven otherwise. Will he step down?

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