Delhi-based Bhawana Paliwal is a busy person these days. She is not a party worker nor an aspiring politician. Paliwal is a private detective, who is busy undertaking surveillance for her clients — politicians.
Every three days, she submits a report to her political clients on the 'activities, strategies and weaknesses' of their rivals in the electoral fray.
"I and my colleagues attend rallies, campaigns, political meetings and discussions under cover. The idea is to gather information to empower our clients so that they prepare themselves accordingly. Essentially, what they expect us to do is dig up dirt — if their rivals have lied in the affidavits about assets, if they have a criminal record or an extra marital affair. These days I and my teams work almost 16 hours a day," says Paliwal. She says her clients want her to focus on certain segments of a Lok Sabha constituency, where they feel their rivals have strong influence. The private detectives say a lot of politicians are seeking their services for larger strategic reasons.
Sanjeev Deswal, managing director of Delhi-based Aider Detectives, says that a lot of political clients — mostly from Delhi, UP and Bihar — are seeking his services to know if their rivals are trying to enlist the support of a local community leader by offering them bribes. "Besides, they want us to help them find dummy candidates who can be fielded to split votes of their rivals," says Deswal.
"Our role is becoming important because these days there is nothing called dedicated party cadre. Opportunism and backstabbing is rampant in politics, more so during elections," he says.
Kunwar Vikram Singh, chairman of the Association of Private Detective and Investigators, who runs his own agency - Lancer Network Services, says his private detective companies offer not just political intelligence, but also what he calls 'vote management services' for their political clients. This includes the total risk analysis of a constituency, due diligence of important political and social leaders in a constituency, their influence in the area and their affiliations to various social and religious organization, their opinion of the sitting MP, etc.
"Gone are the days when politicians relied on astrologers; gathering intelligence is an essential part of the election management process now," says Singh, adding most politicians hired his services not so much to keep an eye not on their rivals but on the enemies within. "These are mostly the disgruntled party leaders who are denied a party ticket. The official candidate suspects them of working against him," says Singh.
Gathering political intelligence, says Deswal, is tougher than other investigations he undertakes. "In a matrimonial or a financial fraud investigation, the subject is one; in a political investigation we have to work on multiple subjects with varying agendas. And the cost of political investigation, says the detective agencies, ranges from Rs 5 to 6 lakh a month. "It depends on the nature and scope of intelligence," says Paliwal.