Monday, July 14, 2008

Bugging for Bharat/Power & Politics/Mail Today, July 14, 2008

FEW things are more engrossing than a good spy story. And if you go by what’s happening in Lutyens’ Delhi and many state capitals these days, where political bedfellows change faster than bedsheets, you’d realise life indeed is imitating fiction. In the midst of the fast moving political developments last week, Icalled up apolitician friend whose support is very crucial to the survival of the UPA government. He was reluctant to talk on the phone and invited me over to his house. When Ireached there acouple of hours later, almost apologetically, he walked me out to the expansive lawns. He admitted that he had no evidence, yet he feared that his phones were being tapped and his house was bugged. Can you believe that? No evidence, just a suspicion, which I suppose is symbolic of the climate of fear that pervades public life in the era of the politiciancorporate- criminal nexus. With the confidence motion coming up and the government’s survival virtually atouchand- go affair, politicians on both sides have taken to hiring sleuths to find out exactly what the other side is up to. Once upon atime, such surveillance used to be the prerogative of official agencies like the Intelligence Bureau but in these liberalised days, anybody and everybody worth his pencam is getting into the act. Why, even the IB is known to outsource minor tasks like wiretapping to private agencies. The Vajpayee government’s fall in 1999 after aone vote defeat has drilled into the netas the importance of each vote. In the much awaited close contest, it’s the one and two MP parties that are being particularly targeted. Afriend in the IB recently mentioned to me about something called “contact dotting” which Iinitially mistook for the new hot social networking site. Actually, it’s something very scary. Here, if you are the target of snoopers, they may not necessarily monitor your cellphone but will definitely keep a watch on those very close to you. Like your faithful driver of twenty years because his phone is likely to give them an idea of your whereabouts and whom you met. Young techies are being paid handsomely to hack e- mails of opponents. Of course, spies would be no different than you and me without their sophisticated gadgets. Importers of electronic intelligence and surveillance equipment, once limited to Delhi, have now fanned out to states like Andhra, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Punjab and Haryana where the political transfer windows are open round the year. Sales are growing and so are their bank balances. But the more things change, the more they remain the same. Twenty one years ago, long before 200 million Indians embraced cell phones, Iremember doing acover story in India Today about the differences between the then president Giani Zail Singh and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi that almost brought down the Rajiv Government. There was no satellite television then and it was the closest one could get to what is now called breaking news. The story created aflutter and shortly afterwards, Gianiji called me over to the Rashtrapathi Bhavan. He took me by the hand and escorted me to the beautiful Mughal Gardens. When Iasked him why we were sitting out in the open on ahot summer day, he said, “Puttar, main Rashtrapati hoon, lekin eh deewaron mere nahin. Kahan kahan button hai, mujhe patta nahin (Son, Iam the president but these walls don’t belong to me. I don’t know where all the bugs are).” Information, specially on your opponent, is power. Politicians be warned.

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