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When phone tapping rumours were afloat in Gujarat among BJP leaders, IAS babus

Gordhan Zadaphia
By Rajiv Shah 
While alerts were coming in over the last few days about a series of articles on how phones of “journalists, ministers, activists” may have been used to spy on them with the help of an Israeli project, Pegasus, finally, when I got up on Monday morning, I saw a Times of India story quoting (imagine!, we never used to do this, did just a followup in case we missed a story) the Wire, a top news portal on this providing some details, along with government reaction.
While the first Wire story on Monday confines itself to journalists, including the news portal founder-editor Siddharth Varadarajan, pointing towards an “international collaborative reporting project” which establishes “the frightening extent to which governments around the world, including India, could be using surveillance tools in ways that have nothing to do with national security”, a friend in Australia, Neeraj Nanda, editor, South Asian Times, Melbourne, sent me a link of a “Guardian” story in the afternoon, which says:
“The Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s most prominent political rival, the opposition figure Rahul Gandhi, was twice selected as a potential surveillance target in leaked phone number data, making him one of dozens of Indian politicians, journalists, activists and government critics whose numbers were identified as possible targets for the Israeli company’s government clients.”
Those of us who have covered Gandhinagar (I did this for the Times of India between 1997 and early 2013), however, are little surprised about this, though this always was reported as suspicion, with few facts. Rumblings about phone tapping in Gujarat date back to a couple of years after Narendra Modi took over State chief minister in October 2001. Ironically, those who protested against phone tapping were not from the Congress, but from within BJP.
I recall, among those who raised the banner first against phone tapping was BJP’s former North Gujarat strongman Dr AK Patel. Now 90, he created history by becoming one of the two BJP MPs who won Lok Sabha seats during the Congress sympathy wave in 1984. He served as Minister of State for Chemicals and Fertilisers in Atal Bihari Vajpayee's government in 1998-99, and was a Rajya Sabha member from 2000 to 2006. I would be in touch with him to find out what was happening in BJP.
As for phone tapping, all that Dr AK Patel, who was close to Modi's top bete noire Keshubhai Patel, would tell me was in the form of circumstantial evidence. I recall, he openly protested against phone tapping even at a public meeting. Interestingly, the person whom he groomed as one of Gujarat’s top politicians is Nitin Patel, now deputy chief minister.
Another leader talked about it was Gordhan Zadaphia, the controversial minister of state for home during the 2002 Gujarat riots. Belonging to the Keshubhai Patel camp, Zadaphia never went on record on this, but was strongly “suspicious”. I think, the year was 2006. Things went so far that Keshubhai phoned me up informing me something interesting soon after a BJP MLAs’ meet.
Dr AK Patel (right)
Keshubhai told me that Zadaphia, spoke out rather emotionally about phone tapping at the party MLAs’ meet, with tears rolling down his eyes. Zadaphia, who turned a rebel, left the BJP in 2007 along with a few other MLAs and became part of a short-lived party formed by Keshubhai. After remaining dormant for a few years, he rejoined BJP.
I phoned him up to find out what he was doing in BJP then, and he told me, “Animal husbandry issues of BJP”! Later, I read he had been appointed Uttar Pradesh in charge of BJP. I don’t know what he did on that post – as whatever I knew of him suggests he had little influence even in Gujarat or BJP. Why was given that post I failed to understand. Now he is in charge BJP Mahila Morcha. There is little details on what does this in charge do. 
Be that as it may, I forgot about phone tapping, till there were rumours again around 2009. These rumours said phone tapping instruments had been installed “somewhere in Ahmedabad”. Top Gujarat government bureaucrats, whom I was in touch with as part of my duty became extra cautious talking with me on phone, and would advise me to meet them personally, instead.
Even I was warned that my mobile may be tapped, but I would reply, I had nothing to hide, as all that I talk with officials in Sachivalaya would be published as news story on the next day.
I do recall one incident in this regard, which would somewhat confirm that the Modi establishment in Gujarat may perhaps have tried its hand on this. Talking to a senior Gujarat home department official, I asked him whether there was phone tapping in Gujarat, as it was suspected. He said, there were legal procedures laid down for this, which officials had to follow.
However, this official underlined, he, along with the state DGP and Amit Shah, then minister of state for home, had “seen” a demonstration of an Israeli machine on phone tapping. I asked him how did this work, and this is what he said: You enter in phone numbers, and you could listen (and possibly record) the conversation! “I don’t know if it is at all being used for phone tapping”, he quipped.

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