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Issue No.: 559 | January 2014

Snoopgate: A Comedy of Errors

Firoze Hirjikaka
Whichever way you look at it, the unlawful surveillance scandal involving Amit Shah, his saheb and the Gujarat state security apparatus - popularity known a Snoopgate - is a comedy of errors. It is a classic example of the knots individuals and political parties tie themselves into when they try to defend the indefensible.

One fact our politicians and public figures have yet to grasp is that in this electronic age, nothing they do or say is likely to remain secret - or sacred - thanks to an ever more aggressive and inquisitive media with sophisticated interception devices at their disposal. Amit Shah probably could not have imagined that his private instructions to the state security agencies he controlled would one day become public property and hand the Congress an opportune weapon to embarrass the BJP.

Not surprisingly, there are differing interpretations of the sequence of events depending on which political party is doing the interpreting. I will only elaborate on the most plausible and logical one. A young lady architect came to the notice of saheb and they grew quite close. The Saheb showed his appreciation by affording her preferential treatment in awarding her a few lucrative state building projects. After a while, the ardour apparently cooled. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, they say. Well, that applies to egotistical men as well; and saheb has a monumental ego. I suspect he became over possessive and demanding. Whatever the reason, the lady moved on to greener pastures and probably this was an affront saheb's pride could not stomach. He instructed his Man Friday Amit Shah to keep a strict watch on the lady's activities and report back to him. Either from over-zealousness or a burning desire to please his master, Shah went overboard, employing not only the police, but the state's Intelligence Bureau and Anti-Terrorism squad among others. The lady's every movement and encounter was meticulously observed and recorded - and methodically reported to the boss. What the spies were unaware of was that their own conversations were being secretly recorded by a journalistic website. Not surprisingly, when the snooping was exposed, the shit hid the fan.

To say that the persons concerned, as well as the BJP, were surprised would be an understatement. They were so shell shocked that the initial reaction was a stunned silence. Not the media however. Having got their teeth into one of the juiciest titbits of the decade - garnished with intrigue, secret liaisons and misuse of state machinery - they were determined to milk it for all its worth - as was the Congress. In my opinion, the wisest strategy by the principals and the BJP would have been to maintain the silence and let the storm wash over them. It would be unpleasant and even embarrassing, but eventually the media would have become bored with the lack of reaction and moved on. In any case, if the saheb is indeed Narendra Modi - as has been inferred though not conclusively proved - even if he had a romantic or otherwise relationship with the lady, there was no need to get defensive about it or try to conceal it. Modi is a bachelor and is perfectly within his rights to have a relationship with whoever he chooses. Adopting a holier-than-though attitude, which is so typical of our political leaders, is likely to eventually prove counterproductive. A frank admission would have served him better; and maybe even earned him some envious admiration.

Doing the wise thing is not in the DNA of our political parties, however. Almost instinctively, they settled on the time honoured strategy of initial denial, followed by a series of convoluted and sometimes bizarre justifications. The first spin was to convert the blatant and intrusive surveillance into a security issue; although it was never clarified from whom or what the lady was to be protected form. It is a strange concept of security indeed where the individual purportedly being protected is not even aware of the fact. When that didn't fly, there miraculously appeared a letter from the father of the young lady, virtually exonerating Modi of all wrong doing - and the myth of protection was persisted with even though it was increasingly becoming untenable. 

The BJP stuck doggedly to this defence, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. All the while, they persistently obfuscated the fact that it was unconstitutional and outside the tenets of basic law to use state law enforcement agencies - and that too at the highest level - to carry out surveillance of a private citizen, unless the individual was suspected to be a threat to national security. Tellingly, Narendrabhai who rarely misses an opportunity to impart his folksy wisdom to the huddled masses at the slightest provocation remained ominously silent. As for Amit Shah, the expression of consternation mixed with embarrassment on his face spoke volumes. The cherry on the cake was when the Gujarat government constituted a commission of inquiry to determine, not whether the surveillance was justified or lawful, but how it got leaked to the media. All in all, it was all a glorious fable that even Aesop would have been proud of.

The Congress, as is its wont, went in for overkill where none was required. They keep hammering away. There is now talk of the Centre instituting a formal inquiry. Let it go, guys. All you need to do is sit back and rub your hands with glee as the BJP falls deeper into the hole it has dug for itself. The more the Congress rubs it in, the more it will look like one of those political vendettas that political parties routinely engage in. The impact will be dissipated - to the BJP's advantage.

In the final analysis, it is a tale as old as time: that of a relationship gone sour and an Alpha male determined to demonstrate to his estranged lady the consequences of thwarting him. Normally, it should be nobody's business but that of the individuals concerned. But when one of them is aspiring to the highest post in the land, it gets more complicated. Stay tuned.

FIROZE HIRJIKAKA is a retired civil engineer, a blogger
and a freelance writer and a member of the Advisory Board of
 Freedom First.





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