While Project Pegasus puts a questions mark on the future of democracy, a veteran journalist in Gujarat has claimed that spying has its roots in Gujarat.
The testing of a spyware was carried out for the first time in Gujarat during Narendra Modi’s regime. His piece ‘When phone tapping rumours were afloat in Gujarat among BJP leaders, IAS babus’ reflects his on his personal observations on the international issue of phone snooping and surveillance.
Shah has claimed in his blog, “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!”
Rajeev Shah’s blog has become the talk of Gujarat. Rajiv was associated with the Ahmedabad edition of the The Times of India from 1997 and retired as its’ political editor in 2013.
When Gujrati media House contacted a retired IPS officer he too claimed “We were told to be very careful by our seniors because an Israeli software was likely to have been experimented in Gujarat. This was around 2009. He said that that when he tried to find out whether it was purchased by Gujarat police, the answer revealed was in the negative.”
“We do not know who bought it. Maybe it was bought under the aegis of some Gujarat government-owned PSU or by someone else but there was a big buzz about Gujarat using Israeli spyware,” the officer claimed.
Rajiv Shah also writes in his blog mentioning an official and the spyware, “he was in conversations with an official from the Gujarat departments home department in 2009 who discussed an Israeli software in Gujarat with him”.
In his blog ‘Counterview’, Shah has recalled an incident with regards to phone tapping. He wrote, ‘‘I do recall one incident, 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.’’
Rajiv goes on to state in his blog that rumours of spyware did not surprise him because back when he covered Gujarat capital, Gandhinagar, till 2013, there were always suspicions of spyware in use to tap phones.
‘‘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 by the Modi government were not from Congress, but from within BJP’’, claims Shah.
‘‘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,’’ writes Shah.
Another Gujarati journalist Mahesh Langa had also reported for Hindustan Times in 2013 about massive phone surveillance in Gujarat. However it must be mentioned that Langa nowhere attributed the spyware to Israel or any other country.
Langa had written about the fear of surveillance by the state authorities in Gujarat is widespread. So widespread that no minister, MP, MLA, bureaucrat or police official speaks freely on his or her official mobile phone. Most of them have two or three mobiles, it is reliably learnt.
“The Gujarat Police, IB, Anti-Terrorist Squad and Ahmedabad Police Crime Branch are the main agencies involved in carrying out massive illegal surveillance on persons specified by the political bosses. They track movements, tap mobile phones, get locations and call detail records (CDRs) from the mobile phone service providers,” a top official said, adding that he himself prefers the BSNL landline phone at his residence when he wants to speak about confidential matters.
Rajiv Shah also corroborates this in his blog. He writes that “the first to raise a banner against phone tapping was BJP’s North Gujarat strongman Dr AK Patel. Dr. Patel, now at the age of 90, was then close to Modi’s top bete noire Keshubhai Patel and openly opposed 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 claims Shah“.
Another leader who talked about it was Gordhan Zadaphia, the controversial minister of state for the 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,’’ claims Shah.
Shah also wrote in his blog,‘‘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 into 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, Gordhanbhai re-joined BJP.’’
Shah claims to have called Zadaphia to find out what he was doing in BJP then. Zadaphia’s reply to Shah was, “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 in that post – as whatever I knew of him suggests he had little influence even in Gujarat or BJP. Why was he given that post, I failed to understand. Now, he is in charge of BJP Mahila Morcha. There are little details on what does this in charge does,’’ writes Shah.
There is a buzz in Gujarat that if not Pegasus, maybe there was some software in a preliminary stage tested in Gujarat before 2014.
You can read Rajiv Shah’s blog here.