New Delhi, April 26: A belligerent and united Opposition is demanding answers to the phone-tapping scandal that came to light last week, and BJP leader LK Advani made clear in the Lok Sabha today that nothing short of an explanation from the Prime Minister would do.
This after the government promised that Home Misniter P Chidamabaram would make a statement on the issue at noon.
Advani harked back to the days of Emergency and said this situation was something akin and against the fabric of democracy. He demanded a new law to stop "the government from abusing its power" against politicians and journalists.
Immediately after Advani’s statement, the Lok Sabha was adjourned till noon with the Opposition demanding suspension of Question Hour on the phone-tapping issue. The Rajya Sabha was adjourned till noon earlier.
The Opposition is attacking the government in Parliament over a report in the latest issue of the weekly news magazine Outlook that the phones of several political leaders have been tapped.
Once again speaking on the same side of an argument, the Left parties, the BJP are demanding a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to investigate the matter.
The Outlook report has claimed that the phones of some prominent political leaders including Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and Congress leader Digvijay Singh, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and CPM General Secretary Prakash Karat have been tapped by the National Technical Research Organisation, an intelligence agency created after the Kargil War to cover all aspects of technical intelligence gathering.
The report alleged that while the phones of Singh and Kumar were tapped in 2007 and that of Karat in 2008 at the height of his opposition to the Indo-US nuclear deal leading to the no-confidence motion against the UPA government, Pawar’s phone was tapped and taped last fortnight in the wake of the IPL controversy.
The Opposition is up in arms and asks: Are ministers and chief ministers and other political leaders a threat to the nation?
"If the government is tapping the phones of terrorists, or tax evaders or secessionists, then it is understandable as national interest and national security are involved. But tapping phones of politicians and ministers is condemnable," BJP Deputy Leader in Rajya Sabha S S Ahluwalia said.
On his blog, BJP patriarch L K Advani posted: Is the Emergency back? (Read: Advani’s blog on phone taps)
His party’s spokesman Rajiv Pratap Rudy said on Sunday: "We have said we will not accept any reply except (from) the Prime Minister himself, but at the same time the Bharatiya Janata Party will press for the suspension of the Question Hour tomorrow and demand for a joint parliamentary committee on this subject as well."
Congress leaders allude to how it could have been a mistake. "It is entirely possible that legitimate national security activity could have had an unintended inclusion of snatches of conversation by inadvertance and not by design. But these are explanations for which the government will come up. Till then let us not give advance threats of disruption," was the response of Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi.
The fact that a Congressman - Digvijay Singh - figures in the list of politicians whose phones were allegedly tapped is now laughed off by the man himself. "Should there be an investigation? I don’t have a problem either ways. If someone wants to tap my phone they are most welcome to do it," Singh said.
Digvijay Singh had earlier sought an investigation if this was true.
The fact that there is no BJP leader among the politicians whose phones the report has said were allegedly tapped has also raised some eyebrows.
"It baffles me that there is no one from the BJP and some of the names are indeed surprising," said senior journalist Chandan Mitra.