Mountains and molehills changing places and moles being exposed as spooks could provide a sideshow in any serious discussion, especially in Parliament that must at most times debate weighty matters. This week, the alleged snooping on MPs triggered by the Delhi Police’s wholly superfluous open attempt to get some personal details of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi provided the right occasion for the pot calling the kettle black.
However, apart from some angry name calling, it all ended up in smoke without fire. The simple fact was that the Delhi Police needed the personal details of VVIPs as they could at any time be caught in a jam. On such occasions, the police needed to verify and the personal details help identify that the police was getting the right message and not some spook. Why do the police need the shoe size of the VVIP?
In the Rajya Sabha finance and information minister Arun Jaitley quoted the instance of Rajiv Gandhi’s smattered body being recognised by the size of the former prime minister’s shoe following his assassination at Siriperumbudur in 1991. Personal details in the hands of security personnel help on crucial occasions and thus improve protection.
In this case, however, the Delhi Police messed up what was a straight operation. By knocking at the Tughlak Lane residence of Rahul Gandhi, at a time he was not there, it sparked off suspicion. It has been pointed out that the whole exercise of gathering these personal details was not necessary as the other security agency, the SPG which protects him 24x7 already, has these very details.
Two other exposures have taken place in the event. One is the media’s unending quest for the “exclusive” meat. With so many Rahul acolytes in the residence knowing about the police enquiry, it was obvious someone will tip off the media. For the media, there was more excitement than the normal leg work needed before a story is verified and its different angles explored. On many other occasions, too, the media has been accused of its anxiety to be the first with “news” overtaking its professional caution. This event might send the media managers back to their classrooms. If it does, it has served a purpose.
The other exposure is of the Congress itself. In rushing to paint the present government with the taint of dictatorship, the Congressmen were perhaps looking at their own mirror image. Who, for instance, in 1991 rushed to withdraw the party’s support to the Chandrasekhar government on the suspicion that the Haryana policemen found loitering in Rajiv Gandhi’s lawns were moles planted by the Chautala government of Haryana to spy on the Congress leader, as the Chandrasekhar government was dependent on the outside support of the Congress?
Then the whole history of the 1970s and ’80s is there when the Congress suspected the great patriot J P of being a CIA agent and put him and the entire Opposition in jail, denying even the fundamental right to life and liberty. In the ’80s, the media became the target with a bill meant to throttle its freedom. So when Congressmen in Parliament made a “mountain of suspicion” out of what was “not even a molehill”, as Jaitley put it, they were being propelled by their own past sins. Let us therefore ignore their postures.
A charitable interpretation is that the Congress and other Opposition MPs, who raised hell in both Houses on the issue of Delhi police visiting Rahul’s residence, may also have been provoked by the many mole stories the media has been bandying about over the last fortnight.
A natural question is why did the Congress overreact to a non-event. Since there are no skeletons tumbling out of the Modi government in office for over nine months now, the party is obviously short of issues on which it can corner the ruling regime. The blind opposition to the land Bill also falls in this category. Mere opposition for opposition’s sake is surely not going to help the Congress to resurrect itself.
The capital is also agog with all sorts of rumours following the series of arrests of corporate executives, former journalists and government officers on alleged spy ring running in the oil ministry. There is also the report of a mole being found in the defence ministry during the previous government’s tenure who stole a confidential briefing that the then chief of staff gave to his minister and passed it on to the Pakistani spy agency. Once these reports became front-page headlines, every channel and newspaper was digging up more and more. Even the defence minister was worried. Everybody in the government and outside was wondering if everyone else was also a mole planted by someone.
The balloon was pricked only when it came out that the defence ministry event was nothing but part of a drill initiated to detect any gap in the security ring and as for the run on the oil ministry, such leaks were nothing new. Corporate interests had for long been wanting to know who was thinking what in the higher echelons of government and naturally, in the ruling political party. Lobbysts have invariably walked the corridors of power for a scrap here or eaves-dropping there. How effective can securing the government processes be against this rat-like entry of lobbyists is a matter of speculation. It is like seeking protection against virus attacks. The viruses seek to change their identity marks to escape detection by the rushing immune weapons of the host. So this battle will never end.
As a postscript, we should think outside the frame in such events. If most government transactions are open to the public and these secrecy obsessions go, there will be less appetite for snooping. Besides with hidden recording devices and powerful telescopes that could all be bundled into one. So, beware of visitors. They could have a spy pen in their shirt pocket. It is freely available. So the fictional James Bond types are on the way out.
Not just spy pens. Corporate whistle-blowers have done great service to humanity often by digging out dirt from bank vaults. The signs are that governments everywhere are moving slowly but surely towards secretless governance.
The worst form of government is no longer the one that keeps more secrets. Soon the best form could well be that which needs no huge four walls to keep itself from prying eyes. Maybe such an El Dorado could be faraway. Today’s moles may in the near might be hailed as the ones who helped break the secrecy syndrome.