A police visit to Rahul Gandhi's residence in Delhi has triggered a major controversy that now threatens to cast a pall on the proceedings of Parliament in the ongoing budget session, which has seen several disruptions over issues such as land bill and separatist leader Masarat Alam's release, among others. While police have denied allegations of snooping on the Congress vice-president, the grand old party has cried foul. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), meanwhile, has played down the matter.
Here's all you need to know about the controversy and the stand of the stakeholders.
The furore erupted after a media report that a police team had visited Gandhi's residence to seek details about the 44-year-old's appearance, such as his height and the colour of his eyes and hair. Gandhi is on a sabbatical since the start of the budget session of Parliament on February 23 and is said to be brainstorming over the Congress' future, fuelling speculation of a overhaul in the party.
CONG CRIES POLITICAL ESPIONAGE
The Congress accused the government of "political espionage", saying Delhi Police made "unnecessary and weird inquiries" about Gandhi that seemed more like the Gujarat model, a veiled reference to the controversial surveillance of a young woman allegedly by Gujarat authorities when Narendra Modi was the chief minister.
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said, "This kind of political espionage, snooping, surveillance and intrusion in political opponent's life may be the Gujarat model but not the Indian model," Singhvi said, referring to the often-quoted Modi's Gujarat model of development.
"Track record may show that it has been a model perfected in Gujarat. Indeed not only for political opponents but for, we are told, large number of tales about judges, journalists and private persons."
Singhvi demanded a comprehensive explanation by the home minister or the Prime Minister and said the Congress will raise the issue in Parliament.
"....It is something which everybody should stand up for, stand up against. It is something which no law permits," he said, noting "India is a proud democracy, not a police state."
Refusing to see it as a matter only concerning police, Singhvi said they have better things to do than to "listen to the dictates of their political masters".
Very unfortunate, I think CID & intelligence has been asked to track him (Rahul Gandhi): Mallikarjun Kharge pic.twitter.com/GxfVFhfaPI— ANI (@ANI_news) March 14, 2015
POLICE SAY ROUTINE PRACTICE
Confirming that some police personnel visited Gandhi's residence, Delhi Police commissioner BS Bassi rejected the allegation of snooping and said such visits were a routine practice aimed at being in touch with dignitaries.
"Rahul Gandhi was not targeted by the police. It was a routine activity which is done to keep records of vulnerable personalities. Police also visited houses of Veerappa Moily, LK Advani, K Chandrasekhar Rao, among others. There was no malafide intention behind seeking details about Gandhi," he said.
Bassi said there was no pressure on police from the Prime Minister's Office or the home ministry to visit Gandhi's residence. The police chief added such surveys are conducted at the offices of all protected persons from time to time for prevention and detection of crime and the maintaining of law and order.
"Our beat officer Rameshwar Dayal went to his house on March 12 and sought details about him. As beat officers are not able to directly meet such persons, they contact their office staff and leave performa pertaining to required details," he said.
BJP RETURNS CONG FIRE
BJP spokesperson Sudhanshu Trivedi also termed the police verification on Gandhi a "routine exercise" carried out by Delhi Police for years.
"It is a common practice that has been followed for years. If they call it espionage, then it shows their mentality."
He alleged Congress had resorted to snooping during its own rule when reports of bugging on the then finance minister Pranab Mukherjee had surfaced but no satisfactory explanation was given by the government.
BJP leader and Union minister M Venkaiah Naidu wrote on Twitter, "Why this fuss? I too was given similar questionnaire when I was in opposition and even after coming to power. Congress is trying to make an issue out of a non-issue."
Rahul Gandhi's whereabouts not known by anyone, looks like his absence has mentally affected Cong: Sudhanshu Trivedi pic.twitter.com/jKowIOVWXu— ANI (@ANI_news) March 14, 2015