The Congress put the government on the mat in Parliament on Monday over police visiting Rahul Gandhi's home to fill in particulars such as the colour of his eyes and hair on a pro forma, a move the miffed party termed as "political espionage".
The BJP-led coalition government scoffed at the opposition party for calling a so-called routine security exercise for VVIPs as "snooping" and held out a list of over 500 top leaders - including former Prime Ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh - whose personal details were being updated from time to time.
The Congress was in no mood to relent as it staged a walkout from the Rajya Sabha over the alleged snooping on its 44-year-old vice-president - an SPG-protected VVIP - and demanded a statement from home minister Rajnath Singh for the fact that Delhi Police report to his ministry.
The party raised the same point in the Lok Sabha as Malikarjun Kharge demanded an official response from Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well as home minister Singh to know why police found it necessary to visit Gandhi's residence in his absence.
Gandhi has been on a sabbatical since the start of the Budget session on February 23.
Kharge described the police action as an invasion to Gandhi's privacy and said such things could happen to all MPs and important personalities.
The government asked the Opposition not to politicise the matter. "Snooping is keeping a watch on someone silently … asking staff to fill in a pro forma is not snooping," said finance minister Arun Jaitley in the Rajya Sabha, adding the Congress was "making a mountain out of not even a molehill".
He said police verification of VVIPs was a routine procedure since 1999.
Parliamentary affairs minister Venkaiah Naidu asked the Congress not to fuss over a non-issue. "During your regime, people use to say there used to be surveillance. Lots of such complaints were received at that time. People used to speak about it inside Parliament too. When I was in the Opposition, they (police) came twice and gave that questionnaire to me and asked me to sign that. When I became a minister, they again made some enquiries."
But Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said India was not "Pakistan where authorities can do anything they want".
"This snooping is against the right to privacy of an individual and democracy of the nation. I want to ask the government whether it wants to threaten and intimidate parties with such snooping."
Party colleague Anand Sharma said an inquiry should be ordered over reports that the government was tapping phones of political leaders.
Phone tapping has been a common political allegation which sometimes escalated into a massive crisis such as the one in 1991 when the Congress brought down the Chandrasekhar government on the basis of reports that the authorities were conducting illegal surveillance on former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Before the start of Parliament proceedings on Monday, Delhi Police chief BS Bassi briefed junior home minister Kiren Rijiju. Police had denied there was any intention to spy on Gandhi, saying the exercise was done to update their database.
Police commissioner Bassi said a beat constable and a special branch officer had taken similar forms to MPs Naresh Agarwal and KP Gujjar as well as Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao before going to Gandhi's residence on March 12.
"It will be an injustice to call the work of beat officers snooping. We ask our beat constables to maintain record of all protected persons in their beat, so they are just doing that."
(With inputs from agencies)