SAD steers debate from religion minefield to political slugfest

  • Sukhdeep Kaur, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Nov 16, 2015 21:37 IST
In no mood to let the issue die down, SAD president Sukhbir Badal on Monday asked the Congress to take action against its leaders “whose involvement in the event has been proven beyond doubt”. (HT Photo)

There’s nothing official about these: neither the “scoop” that has helped the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal kill two birds -- the opposition Congress and radical Sikh outfits who are at the forefront of whipping up Panthic sentiments after a spate of sacrilege incidents -- with one stone nor the “snooping” that helped in making of the “scoop”.

For if the ruling party admits to tapping the phones of the two Congress leaders and organisers of the November 10 radical Sarbat Khalsa, snooping on political rivals becomes a bigger scoop.

Whether the Congress leaders in question -- Harminder Gill and Lalli Majithia -- whose “taped” or “tapped” conversations have been put on social networking sites by a SAD youth leader and the media duly informed, did actually speak to one of the organisers of the radicals’ show, Satnam Singh Manawa, is the least of Congress’ worries. The party has its defence ready in “snoopgate”.

In no mood to let the issue die down, SAD president Sukhbir Badal on Monday asked the Congress to take action against its leaders “whose involvement in the event has been proven beyond doubt”. But the Congress asked him -- as the state’s home minister -- to first own up to snooping on political rivals. A bemused Punjab Congress president Partap Singh Bajwa has promised action against the two party leaders if Badal “has the guts” to admit to tapping phones of the two leaders in the interest of law and order or national security.

“Let the government claim it recorded the conversations of the two leaders with the radicals. After all, it can claim to do so in the interest of national security. We will then go to court seeking that the authenticity of the audio tapes be determined through forensic examination. If proved authentic, we will take action against them,” Bajwa says.

He peppers the challenge with his characteristic barb. “If the state’s intelligence department is efficient enough to claim the Congress’ hand behind the huge gathering, why can’t it stop incidents or events from taking place in the state,” he asks.

Voice records doctored: Capt

Congress deputy leader in Lok Sabha Capt Amarinder Singh, whose camp Majithia and Gill belong to, has rubbished the voice records as “doctored” saying Akalis were trying to divert people’s attention from the core issues.

And he is right. The “scoop” has helped Sukhbir change the narrative after the radical Sarbat Khalsa by steering his party from the minefield of Panthic anger to political slugfest between Akalis and the Congress. Both are accusing each other of illegal actions for which neither needs to plead guilty.

Unlike the audio clip played by the state police before the media last month after “legal tapping” of phones of the two brothers from Moga village who were arrested on charges of sacrilege and later released, the SAD leaders who played the audio clip of the two Congress leaders at a press conference last week made no such claim, saying someone uploaded the tape on the social media.

Bugged by snooping, many Punjab politicians use private numbers from service providers or undisclosed numbers. Though the Indian Telegraph Act permits intelligence agencies to tap phones through on-air tapping (lawful telephone interception through the service provider), it can be done only for ‘suspects’ involved in anti-national or criminal activities.

The state intelligence units have the discretion to use it; they need to follow due process by seeking permission from the home secretary.

The home department of Punjab, too, has certified to the ministry of home affairs that it is not in possession of any off-the-air equipment -- that can intercept and record call content directly without the help of service providers, though few in opposition believe this.

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