For reasons of State

Those with the power to bring down governments have their phones tapped

Sanjay Kapoor
I feel left out. My phone is not being tapped. I don't have to caution, 'not over the phone please, it is being tapped' and sense the tinge of envy and admiration at the other end. The sceptics were silenced with 'Do you hear a clicking sound at regular intervals? That means that our conversation is being recorded.' I passed on my knowledge gleaned from my police contacts with self-importance.

As a junior reporter in 1990, I was informed by a source that my phone was under surveillance. Circumstances placed me in the company of forgers and government topplers. Then prime minister, VP Singh, was facing extreme hostility from his deputy prime minister, Choudhary Devi Lal. The big-built Lal, with eyes on the top post, was reported to be in cahoots with the Congress, which was trying to bring down the Janata Dal government in a replay of 1977. Devi Lal had demanded action against Arun Nehru and Muhammad Khan, close to VP Singh, for their involvement in Bofors and other deals. As evidence, he had attached a letter purportedly written by VP Singh to then president Giani Zail Singh where he demanded a probe into the involvement of Nehru in the Bofors gun deal and Khan in Phosphoric purchase deal when they were in the government of Rajiv Gandhi. Outraged, VP Singh labelled the letter 'forged'. At the centre of this controversy was the colourful Muhammad Ashraf, who was earlier the private secretary of VP Singh. Ashraf gave the 'forged' letter to Devi Lal's private secretary, KK Deepak.

Singh was adamant to remove Lal from the cabinet till he came clear in this case. To get my big story, I took the help of a fixer who was not fond of Singh and his vindictive ways. He put me to his adviser, and a few days later I found myself in Devi Lal's charmed inner circle, which was in war session. One of the many fixers and small-timers there hit upon the idea that Lal's survival depended on Ashraf giving a written affidavit that he was the one who gave the letter to Lal's secretary, Deepak and that he, as the former personal secretary of Singh, had memories of the letter being written by his boss.

The exact details are hazy, but I recall that an impression was created that Ashraf would give the affidavit only to me. Hoping to write a big scoop at a later date, I was easily persuaded to shoulder that responsibility. Ashraf called me at my residence to fix up a meeting at a neighbourhood restaurant. Barely had I put the phone down, it began to ring again. When I picked up the phone the voice at the other end only checked my name and then the line went cold. But that was only the first of the many blank calls that followed.

At the restaurant, Ashraf told me that he was under surveillance and pointed to a car parked at a distance. He told me that it was because 'It involves the survival of the government and the IB would like to know what Devi Lal and his friends like me and you are doing.' He chuckled when I told him about the blank calls, 'You are under surveillance, too, my friend.' Ashraf failed to show up with the affidavit, much to the consternation of Devi Lal and his supporters and I continued to be under watch.
Though mostly uncomfortable, it was reassuring to know that someone was watching over me in unsafe Delhi. A few days later, Lal was given the sack, and I was no longer important for the intelligence.

In 1996, I was told by my well-wishers that I was under watch again. At that time, I did not care to find out more.

Surely, intelligence agencies tap phones of those people who are important for them and for the survival of the government. Amar Singh, by any yardstick, is a fit case for all kinds of surveillance whether it violates his fundamental rights or whatever. Any government or his adversary would like to know what he is up to.

They would like to know whether he is building a coalition to bring down the UPA government or up to some other games. If Manmohan Singh does not keep track of what is happening in his adversary camp then he cannot be sure about how long his government would survive. Can the UPA and its allies afford that?