By Bimal Prasad Mohapatra
Pegasus snoopgate exposure makes it clear that no government is holy or evil in matter relating to snooping. Snooping were there, are there and will be there to stay as a weapon in the hands of government/s –whether there is democracy or autocracy or anything else- as because there is no best alternative to it for collection of data for national interest, and above all, national security, both from external and internal sources, despite fear of misuses which were there, are there and will be there. For greater cause of national security and interest, the misuse of snooping may guardedly be tolerated.
Was the grand old party’s learned PM Dr. Manmohan Singh not aware of violation of citizens’ fundamental right for privacy by way of government’s conducted phone tapping before he strongly advocated on 14 December 2010 for continuation of the same on the wake of disclosure of taped conversations of nation’s leading industrialists which was tweeted by India Today and I quote “Phone tapping in national interest: PM: Manmohan Singh says such powers are needed in the world that we live in”? Then why the Congress Party’s crown prince along with other parties –majority of them also owned by dynasties- and their party MPs are not allowing Parliament to function for long two weeks when the nation deserves its representatives discuss the biggest ever crisis of its nationhood due to a China exported pandemic and Chinese intrusion into buffer zones between the two countries in Ladakh, simultaneously taken place and refuse to tame despite yearlong effort of government? Is it that the grand old party has got privilege to remain holy for whatever its owner/leaders did, and others are evils?
This author writes above “misuse of snooping may guardedly be tolerated”, while former PM said, “Such powers (phone tapping for national interest) are needed in the world that we live in”. Subsequent to Dr. Singh’s opening of mind over the issue in 2010, Industry honchos Rahul Bajaj said, “I do believe as the Prime Minister said that in today’s world some of these things are unfortunately necessary…” and Godrej Group Chairman Adi Godrej said that phone-tapping should not be done indiscriminately. It should be done only in cases involving national security or to combat terrorism.” Means national interests, which are sometimes interpreted to meet ruling party and its leaders interests, were paramount in Nehru-Gandhi rules, are paramount in Modi-Shah rules and will remain paramount in future Congress-Gandhi/BJP-RSS/Banarjee-Yadav-Badal-Abdullah-Reddy-Gogoi-Pawar-Gowda-Pinaryi-Patnaaik, etc. rules.
When the matter concerned to national security and interest, all activities having direct and indirect impacts on national security and interest –it does not matter whether they are done by government employees, security personnel, intelligence personnel, politicians (dynasties or otherwise), journalists, judges, NGOs, businessmen …. and who-not-how- need to be snooped.
In the past, India experienced its holier-than-thou grand old party former owner-cum-supermom Indira Gandhi ordered phone tapping of everybody who was in her arc of suspense during her imposed -till date once for all- draconian National Emergency between 1975-77 and even during her post-NE rule in 1981 she ordered Indian Post to open and read all letters addressed to opposition leader L. K. Advani before delivery. Even Rashtrapati Bhawan was not free from snooping. Former President Zail Singh used to take his visiting journalists to Mughol Garden for talks as he was afraid of the palace wall, furniture, etc. for inbuilt tapping gadgets. Her son Rajiv Gandhi got phone tapping of lakh of numbers when he was facing Bofors Scam challenge from Opposition in 1987. Even he went ahead pulling down his party supported Chandra Sekhar Government in 1991 alleging latter’s government engaged Haryana CID to snoop on him which was not proved. Were the above listed tapping/snooping in national interest or dynasty interest? Whatever that may be snooping/tapping had taken place. But when despite snooping allegations, Indira and Rajiv governments did not fall, Ramakhrishna Hegde government in Karnataka and Chandra Sekhar government in national capital were dismissed in 1988 and 1991 respectively. And Dr. Manmohan Singh government justified the same when his government was found tapping businessmen honchos’ conversations. And businessmen did not reject government right to snoop with humble appeal to not disclose the tapped contents.
Now, let us discuss: should government not have privilege to snoop and tap?
Everybody knows during the prime days of India-Soviet Union friendship, a large number of top Indian journalists and editors, Left politicians and Congress leaders were in the payroll of KGB. What for they were paid? Were these acts of editors and politicians however-holy-their-professions-may-be not treasons? What is the guarantee that the same thing is not happening now in India when the US Justice Department investigation reveals that many leading newspapers in US found taking money from Chinese agencies having dubious link with their government? Soon after 2020 Chinese intrusion in Ladakh, some leading journalists, Senior Research Fellows in Think Tanks and academicians openly advocated that India should not bother for barren land in Himalaya, and later some went ahead accusing Indian Military leadership for intrusion, which were highly demoralizing, though latter did their best in protecting national territorial integrity at a great cost. Should these people not be snooped?
During Kargil War and Mumbai terror attack, despite requests from security establishments to be careful while doing live-reporting from war zones, a journalist went ahead doing her job that helped Pakistan Army and ISI facilitate avoidable killing of our security personnel. Is the lives of Indian soldiers so cheap compare to journalists privacy? Were these coordinated killing of Indian security personnel happened without a deal? Should the deal of so-called journalist not be tapped/snooped to save the lives of patriotic soldiers due to whose effort we sleep without fears?
In 1962, when India was invaded by China, Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyer, who was student in Cambridge University then, allegedly collected donation for invader. In 2015, the same man along with former Foreign Affairs minister and Congress man Salman Khurshid went to India’s arch-rival Pakistan and asked for help to remove India’s PM. Is there any country in the world where this kind of activity allowed so openly? Was any opposition leader ever gone to Pakistan and ask for help during Congress’s Nehru-Gandhi dynasty rule? After long three and half decades of unstable coalition governance, for the first time, the people of India elected a government with absolute majority. What kind of help Aiyer-Khurshid were looking for? Was this not with intention to destabilize India? Is it not treason? Should these kind of people’s phones not tapped and they not be snooped?
During 2017 month long Doklam face off with PLA, grand old party’s crown prince, princess and in-law had visited Chinese Ambassador in New Delhi secretly. When this was disclosed, they first denied. When the hard proof was provided, they accepted. Why they had a secret talk? Why did they deny? Should the government, which is accountable for national security, not snoop Congress first family, who went ahead signing an undisclosed MoU with Chinese Communist Party in 2008 in the presence of present highly belligerent Chinese Paramount Leader Xi Jinping, when the battle ready PLA sitting on India’s border?
These are the questions needs to be addressed before deciding the fate of snooping, phone tapping and citizens’ fundamental right for privacy. Notwithstanding, this author is in agreement with eminent and respected industrialists such as Adi Godrej and Rahul Bajaj, and former PM Dr. Manmohan Singh over the issues of snooping and phone tapping, and at the same times, not in favour of prolonged logjam of Parliament by undemocratic dynastic opposition leaders who are proved time and again not that holy as they portray now.
(Author is Honorary Research Fellow in Defence Research and Studies (DRaS) and Assistant Professor of Management Studies in Trident Group of Institution, Bhubaneswar. The views expressed are personal opinion of the author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)