Government denies snooping on Rahul; hints at change in doing security profiling of leaders

New Delhi(PTI): Government on Monday countered the Congress charges of snooping on Rahul Gandhi saying it was making a “mountain out of what is not even a molehill” as information collection was part of a transparent security profiling used on 526 VIPs, including Sonia Gandhi and former Prime Ministers.

In the Rajya Sabha, the issue was raised by Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad who said Rahul had been a SPG protectee since his father Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister and it was “beyond comprehension” why the police was only now collecting such information on him like his shoe size, colour of hair, habits, his associates, friends and aides.

Official sources said the Home Ministry is likely to review the the methodology adopted to conduct the security profiling of political leaders.

Unwanted questions may be removed from the proforma and new relevant questions can be added, sources said.

Besides, in case of MPs, the secretariates of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha could be taken into confidence while doing the procedure with regards to Parliamentarians, sources said.

The Home Ministry is expected to convene a meeting to review the process of conducting the security profiling of political leaders and take appropriate decisions, sources said.

Responding to the charges, Leader of Rajya Sabha and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said in both Houses the police has been collecting such information since 1987 on VIPs living in Lutyens Delhi through a proforma as part of a transparent security profiling.

Security needs and profiling should be left to security experts and “we should not attempt to become one”, he said, adding “the issue raised is making mountain of what is not even a molehill.”

The proforma, which was revised in 1999, has been used to profile former prime ministers H D Dewa Gowda, I K Gujral, Manmohan Singh and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The same was also used to profile Congress President Sonia Gandhi in October 2004, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012, the Finance Minister said.

Pranab Mukherjee, before becoming the President, was profiled in 2001, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2012, while senior BJP leaders L K Advani and Sushma Swaraj, Ahmed Patel of Congress, CPI(M)’s Sitaram Yechury and Sharad Yadav of JD-U were also profiled, the Finance Minister said in similar statements in the two Houses.

“526 persons have been profiled using the present form” and this was part of “transparent, security profiling and not associated with any kind of snooping or spying,” Jaitley said.

He also proposed to sit with Azad, the Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, to go through the 526 forms filled during the previous UPA rule.

Anand Sharma accused government of tapping phones of political leaders, judges and others through imported devices and demanded an inquiry monitored by the Supreme Court into the snooping issue.The Upper House also saw Satyavrat Chaturvedi (Cong), Naresh Agarwal and Ramgopal Yadav (both SP) and K C Tyagi (JD-U) raising the issue of “snooping and spying” on the gover nment’s political opponents.

In the Lok Sabha, Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge said the NDA government was pursuing the Gujarat model of governance by snooping on political opponents.

“This has never happened in democracy,” Kharge said and asked the government to tell police officials to read ‘Who’s Who’ instead of seeking simple information from the persons concerned.

However, agitated Congress members including former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, walked out of the House after Azad said “we are not satisfied (with the statement) and are walking out.”

Earlier, Deputy Chairman P J Kurien rejected the notice under rule 267 for suspension of business and a discussion on the matter, after hearing out those who had given the notice and disallowing a debate on the issue.

K C Tyagi (JD-U) said the security profiling has “never been heard of” and demanded a discussion on invasion of privacy as well as corporate and political espionage.

Naresh Agarwal (SP) alleged that one lakh telephones were being tapped everyday without requisite permission and warned that the privacy of individuals should not be challenged.

In the Lok Sabha when Kharge raised the issue, Jaitley accused the Congress of trivialising the matter and said that the body of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who was killed by suicide bomber, was recognised by his shoes.

The minor details being sought by the police may look trival on the face of it but are important from the point of view of security, Jaitley said, adding “you are short of issues but do not invent issues which do not exist.” Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu said the police has been carrying out routine checks as per the practice followed since 1957.

“Enquiries were part of a routine exercise and so far 526 other VVIPs have been similarly profiled,” he said, adding these persons included Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP chief Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh, Sheila Dikshit, Ahmed Patel and George Fernandes.

Naidu emphasised that it was a “routine” exercise and the question of espionage does not arise.