New Delhi, March 16:
The central government on Monday dismissed the charges of snooping on Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi as Congress members, supported by other political parties, created an uproar in parliament.
In the Rajya Sabha, Leader of the House and union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley called information gathering by Delhi Police on VIPs a routine drill and urged the members not to act as security experts.
Raising the issue in the Rajya Sabha, Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said religious freedom and political freedom was “going down” in the country.
Azad said he has been an MP for years but has never come across a questionnaire like this.
“Police said it is for the protectees. I do not understand, I have Z-plus security for so many years, no one has ever asked me for such details. Police asked what is his shoe size, what are his habits, who are his associates and asked for their numbers…I cannot understand such proforma,” said Azad.
“Is the government trying to threaten political parties by such spying? Are they trying to say if we raise our voice, inside or outside parliament, the central government will use any tactic to suppress their political rivals,” Azad asked.
“Religious freedom is going down, and now political freedom is going down. The home minister should make a statement,” he said.
He was joined by other opposition parties like Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and Samajwadi Party (SP).
Speaking in the Rajya Sabha, Jaitley said it was a routine drill that police have to undertake to ensure security of the VIPs active in Lutyens’ Delhi. He said the practice was started in 1987 under the then Congress government.
“The issue you have raised is making mountain of what is not even molehill. Snooping is keeping a watch on someone silently, asking staff to fill in a proforma is not snooping,,” Jaitley said.
“This practice was started by the Congress government in 1987… In 1990, the proforma was changed.”
Responding to a question by members why police asked for Rahul Gandhi’s shoe size, the minister said: “A former prime minister when he was assassinated, because of the shoe his body was identified.”
“We are MPs, let us confine ourselves to that. What information experts need to provide security, let us leave it on them. A shoe can be relevant in security,” he said rebutting opposition charges.
The minister said such proforma has been sent to all VIPs from time to time, including former prime ministers H.D. Deve Gowda, Manmohan Singh, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, as well as Congress President Sonia Gandhi, BJP leader L.K. Advani and others.
As opposition members continued to raise the issue, Jaitley said members can check the police records.
“It has not started in last eight months, let the leader of opposition check police records and the forms filled during the UPA government. Will that put an end to the issue?” he said.
In the Lok Sabha, the issue was raised by Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge who demanded an official response from Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well as the home minister.
Police last week visited Rahul Gandhi’s office and inquired about his physical appearance, his height, colour of eyes and hair, among other things, sparking a political controversy.
Delhi Police said this was a “routine” exercise, while the Congress and other opposition parties termed it “political espionage”.