Tapping phones of political leaders is not new to India politics. Way back in 1988, Ramakrishna Hegde had to step down as the chief minister of Karnataka over allegations of phone tapping. In 2013, the then Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha and now the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had alleged that his phone was tapped. In 2015, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu had alleged that his phone was being tapped by the Telangana government led by K Chandrasekhar Rao.
This time, news of massive phone tapping has come from Odisha. Landline phones and mobile phones of as many as 40 MLAs and 10 MPs of the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) are being tapped by the Naveen Patnaik government, leading Odia daily ‘Nirbhay’ has reported.
The report stated that not just the BJD leaders, phones of several Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders – including Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan – are under surveillance. Several senior IAS officers, senior journalists and businessmen from Odisha are also in the surveillance list, it said.
What could be more shocking is that Naveen Patnaik government is using the surveillance instruments, provided by the Centre, which are meant to be used for tracking the Maoist activities, the newspaper said. The phone tapings are reportedly done through “clone SIM process”.
But what could be the reason for the massive phone tapping? It could be noted that post-Panchayat elections, there has been a huge outflow of workers and leaders from the BJD to the BJP. Reports suggest that a number of senior leaders of BJD are waiting to join the BJP in the run up to the 2019 elections. It is pertinent to mention that in the last Pachayat elections, the BJP succeeded in making a giant stride in Odisha politics, leaving Naveen Patnaik-led party in a tailspin.
“Naveen Patnaik is feeling threatened. He is staring at a huge anti-incumbency. An unknown fear is lurking Patnaik that his party MLAs and MPs may defect to the BJP anytime soon. He is using phone tapping as a means to keep track on his own party leaders,” said Navin Das, Editor-in-Chief of ‘Nirbhay’ while speaking to OpIndia.com. “By doing this, Patnaik has imposed an undeclared emergency in Odisha,” Das said.
The fresh report of phone tapping has come at a time when the BJD is locked in a bitter internal feud as the BJP rises in Odisha. Recently, Patnaik has sacked senior party MP Baijayant Panda from the post of BJD Parliamentary Party spokesperson, months he wrote an Op-Ed in Odia daily Samaj asking the party to do a “soul searching”.
Bhartruhari Mahtab, another senior party MP and BJD parliamentary party leader in the Lok Sabha, while writing an Op-Ed in ‘Nirbhay’ had lashed out at his senior party colleagues for their failure to deal with a resurgent BJP.
Recently, Patnaik effected a cabinet reshuffle and brought some changes in the party structure to counter the BJP’s surge. Following this, a crisis of sorts started brewing in the BJD as the reshuffle triggered serious resentment in the rank and file of the party over non-representation of several districts in the ministry.
The resentments and some rebellions (leaders switching over to BJP) were seen as an indication of Naveen Patnaik losing hold over a party he was known to command with authority. Now if these phone-tapping allegations are true, it could hint at a leader being nervous about his slipping hold.
Political writer, policy observer.