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A day after two key UPA constituents publicly disapproved a Snoopgate inquiry in its "dying hours", the government Monday shoved the probe into the deep freeze at the instance of the Congress leadership.
It would be for the new government, which will come in after the counting of votes on May 16, to decide whether to appoint the inquiry judge or scrap last December's cabinet decision ordering the probe, government sources said.
The government has been struggling to find a judge to head the probe. As reported by HT on Monday, the government "very recently" approached former Allahabad high court judge Achal Behari Srivastava for the job. Sources close to the 79-year-old judge confirmed to HT in Kolkata that he had sought some clarifications before giving his consent. He had never "nurtured any political contacts" or wanted to contest polls, the judge said.
The decision to put the appointment on hold follows discomfort within the Congress with growing public perception that politics, and not safety of women, had dictated the government's interest in appointing a retired judge.
Congress leadership believes it was this view that its two key allies -- the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the National Conference (NC) -- had reflected when they went public with their reservations.
NCP's Praful Patel had questioned the need for such an inquiry "when the results of the Lok Sabha elections are due in two weeks' time". NC leader and Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah, on the other hand, tweeted that "setting up a commission of inquiry in the dying hours of UPA-2 is just wrong".
Ministers Sushilkumar Shinde and Kapil Sibal had announced over the last week that the government would set up the panel by May 16. Among other instances of illegal interception, the panel was tasked to probe allegations that a young woman was put under illegal surveillance at the instance of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.
But many senior Congress leaders have questioned the "inordinate delay" in appointing the judge after the cabinet cleared the move in December.
"What was the government doing for the past five months? There should have been some communication or information regarding the government's strategy on the issue," a senior leader said, indicating that the party had been able to persuade the government to put the inquiry on hold.
BJP leader Arun Jaitley responded to reports of the government backtracking on Snoopgate, saying the attempt to set up a parallel commission was a "malafide exercise".
"I would pay a great tribute to Indian judiciary for none of the judges in India was willing to cooperate," Jaitley said. Modi had on Sunday called the inquiry "an act of despair".