The 'profiling-as-routine' explanation of the alleged snooping on Congress leader Rahul Gandhi offered by the Delhi Police and NDA hasn't washed. The outrage continues to froth across political and ideological lines, and is likely to resonate in Parliament beginning Tuesday. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may well be forced into a defensive posture, given the adverse and rather widespread reaction.
What police chief Bassi's defence - it was usual beat routine - doesn't address is why an assistant sub inspector of the Delhi Police needs to visit Rahul's residence with strange queries on the colour of his eyes, height, dress, names of his friends and so on. Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah wasn't one to let such a sitter go by. "Honestly the Delhi Police-RG office script must have stand-up comics salivating at what they can do with it," he tweeted, following up with: "Dear Delhi Police, just to save your chaps time & effort I'm 179 cms, medium build, fair complexion, grey eyes & greying hair. U R welcome."
The Trinamool Congress, an adversary of the Congress in West Bengal, has reacted sharply. "It's a shameful incident. Why should any leader be subject to spying? Everybody knew Rahul was not in Delhi. Then why was the need for any Delhi Police official to conduct a security survey," said Saugata Roy of the TMC.
What has raised eyebrows all around is in the inanity of the details. The Delhi Police ASI also sought information about Rahul's friends.
It has so far remained inexplicable as to why the city police wants to know about the Congress vice-president's friends. This won't agree with the Capital's aam aadmi either.
Professor Aditya Mukherjee of Jawaharlal Nehru University said the incident seemed to suggest a "culture of surveillance that does not sit well with democracy". If Rahul Gandhi, an SPG protectee who has arguably been the most debated and scrutinised personality in the country for the past decade, is not well-known to the police, what then of the man in the street?
The haste with which police commissioner Bassi absolved his political bosses has also had a counterproductive reaction, deepening suspicions in the Opposition camp. After all, when two Haryana CID sleuths were spotted sniffing around Rajiv Gandhi's residence 24 years ago, the then Chandrasekhar government had not responded much differently.
Necessity doesn't explain it either, at least not the way the cops invoke it. The police have argued that a security audit was necessary to enable the law and order machinery to tackle spontaneous demonstrations against Rahul Gandhi or other VIPs. Congressmen are not convinced. They contend that the police should instead gather information about the persons or organisations that are likely to hold such protests. As one Congressman said: "What will the police do with Rahul's dress or the colour of his hair while dealing with such protestors?"
The police argued that the audit was being done for safety and security of vulnerable persons like Rahul Gandhi. The Congress vice-president is, however, an SPG protectee and his security and safety is looked at by the SPG alone and not by the Delhi Police.
The corridors of power have already been abuzz with whispers about snooping and espionage in the past few months. The alleged snooping at the Congress vice-president's residence has only added a new dimension to it. As the opposition parties prepare to stall Parliament on this issue, the NDA regime may find itself held guilty until proven innocent.