Skip to main content

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.

Comments

TRENDING

Vaccine nationalism? Covaxin isn't safe either, perhaps it's worse: Experts

By Rajiv Shah  I was a little awestruck: The news had already spread that Astrazeneca – whose Indian variant Covishield was delivered to nearly 80% of Indian vaccine recipients during the Covid-19 era – has been withdrawn by the manufacturers following the admission by its UK pharma giant that its Covid-19 vector-based vaccine in “rare” instances cause TTS, or “thrombocytopenia thrombosis syndrome”, which lead to the blood to clump and form clots. The vaccine reportedly led to at least 81 deaths in the UK.

'Scientifically flawed': 22 examples of the failure of vaccine passports

By Vratesh Srivastava*   Vaccine passports were introduced in late 2021 in a number of places across the world, with the primary objective of curtailing community spread and inducing "vaccine hesitant" people to get vaccinated, ostensibly to ensure herd immunity. The case for vaccine passports was scientifically flawed and ethically questionable.

'Misleading' ads: Are our celebrities and public figures acting responsibly?

By Deepika* It is imperative for celebrities and public figures to act responsibly while endorsing a consumer product, the Supreme Court said as it recently clamped down on misleading advertisements.

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Magnetic, stunning, Protima Bedi 'exposed' malice of sexual repression in society

By Harsh Thakor*  Protima Bedi was born to a baniya businessman and a Bengali mother as Protima Gupta in Delhi in 1949. Her father was a small-time trader, who was thrown out of his family for marrying a dark Bengali women. The theme of her early life was to rebel against traditional bondage. It was extraordinary how Protima underwent a metamorphosis from a conventional convent-educated girl into a freak. On October 12th was her 75th birthday; earlier this year, on August 18th it was her 25th death anniversary.

Palm oil industry deceptively using geenwashing to market products

By Athena*  Corporate hypocrisy is a masterclass in manipulation that mostly remains undetected by consumers and citizens. Companies often boast about their environmental and social responsibilities. Yet their actions betray these promises, creating a chasm between their public image and the grim on-the-ground reality. This duplicity and severely erodes public trust and undermines the strong foundations of our society.

'Fake encounter': 12 Adivasis killed being dubbed Maoists, says FACAM

Counterview Desk   The civil rights network* Forum Against Corporatization and Militarization (FACAM), even as condemn what it has called "fake encounter" of 12 Adivasi villagers in Gangaloor, has taken strong exception to they being presented by the authorities as Maoists.

No compensation to family, reluctance to file FIR: Manual scavengers' death

By Arun Khote, Sanjeev Kumar*  Recently, there have been four instances of horrifying deaths of sewer/septic tank workers in Uttar Pradesh. On 2 May, 2024, Shobran Yadav, 56, and his son Sushil Yadav, 28, died from suffocation while cleaning a sewer line in Lucknow’s Wazirganj area. In another incident on 3 May 2024, two workers Nooni Mandal, 36 and Kokan Mandal aka Tapan Mandal, 40 were killed while cleaning the septic tank in a house in Noida, Sector 26. The two workers were residents of Malda district of West Bengal and lived in the slum area of Noida Sector 9. 

India 'not keen' on legally binding global treaty to reduce plastic production

By Rajiv Shah  Even as offering lip-service to the United Nations Environment Agency (UNEA) for the need to curb plastic production, the Government of India appears reluctant in reducing the production of plastic. A senior participant at the UNEP’s fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-4), which took place in Ottawa in April last week, told a plastics pollution seminar that India, along with China and Russia, did not want any legally binding agreement for curbing plastic pollution.

Mired in controversy, India's polio jab programme 'led to suffering, misery'

By Vratesh Srivastava*  Following the 1988 World Health Assembly declaration to eradicate polio by the year 2000, to which India was a signatory, India ran intensive pulse polio immunization campaigns since 1995. After 19 years, in 2014, polio was declared officially eradicated in India. India was formally acknowledged by WHO as being free of polio.