Leader of Opposition Mrs Sushma Swaraj has described the alleged bugging of the offices of Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and his private secretaries as India’s Watergate. She does an injustice to the Nixon administration. In the Watergate drama the Republican President was bugging the offices of the Democratic Party. In the current episode there is overwhelming circumstantial evidence to suggest that elements within the Congress were bugging the office of their own Finance Minister (FM).
Consider the bald facts. In September 2010 the FM wrote privately to the Prime Minister stating that adhesives similar to chewing gum were found planted in his office as well as in the offices of his advisor Mrs. Omita Paul and his private secretary Mr. Manoj Pant. Mr. Mukherjee suspected bugging and sought an investigation. In fact an investigation has already been conducted by a private detective agency hired by the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) that operates under the FM. It was after obtaining the evidence unearthed by the private agency that the FM wrote to the PM. The CBDT claimed that the probe did not reveal any bugging device. Nevertheless the FM subsequently wrote to the PM demanding a probe.
“CHEWING GUM THEORY IS A BIG JOKE”—Sushma Swaraj
The BJP described as a big joke the Intelligence Bureau’s “chewing gum theory” regarding the alleged bugging of Finance Minister Mr Pranab Mukherjee’s office and demanded a thorough probe into the matter. Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj said: “The allegation of spying at Pranab Mukherjee’s office is a serious matter. The Finance Minister may have his own compulsions in playing it down, the ‘chewing gum’ theory is hard to digest.”
She further said: “The IB’s chewing gum theory is a big joke. As far as the allegations are concerned, two questions can be raised, whether the spying was being carried out by the government itself against its Finance Minister or some corporate house was doing it. In both the situations, it is a serious issue.”
Slamming the IB, which concluded that the adhesive may just be chewing gum left behind by maintenance staff, she said: “If they give such a childish argument and expect the country to believe that those were chewing gums, people will laugh and ask from where did such an intelligent chewing gum has come that sticks itself wherever it goes. Even Pranab must be knowing the difference between adhesive and chewing gum. I demand the government should take his letter seriously and conduct a thorough probe.”
Mrs Swaraj said if the government was doing it, that reflected the “trust deficit” between the ministers and if some corporate house was involved, then it is a serious security breach. “That is why I called it the Watergate of India. There (in the USA) it was done against the Opposition. And, the American President had to resign. Here it is against their own finance minister. The country wants to know the truth,” she said.
If the private investigation unearthed clinching evidence would the FM have announced it? Quite likely he would have retained the evidence and sought an official probe after being sure that bugging had indeed occurred. The CBDT had no expertise in the matter of bugging. That was why a private investigation was ordered. Why private? Clearly because the FM did not trust the official agencies! Responding to the FM’s private request the PM had the Intelligence Bureau (IB) probe the matter. It gave a clean chit. The FM told media: “In respect of a news item regarding bugging in my offices, the IB investigated into it and found nothing in it.”
If bugging had occurred as suggested by the fact that after a private probe the FM alerted the PM, the denials given by CBDT and later by IB may be taken with buckets of salt. Who would seek to bug the FM’s offices? The corporate world has enough access to information through PR channels. It would be insane for it to attempt a criminal act. The planting of the adhesive substance suggests an official hand because nobody else would have access to these offices to conduct such an exercise. In 2010 when bugging was done the media was buzzing with speculation about data pertaining to black money abroad received from Germany and elsewhere. If the bugging was confirmed as an inside job of the Congress party would the PM or FM dare go public with it? Instead the evidence would be used as ammunition in the silent and bitter infighting under way in the party. The bugging issue may not subside. It could fatally explode at a later more appropriate time.
By Rajinder Puri