New Delhi: The alleged snooping on Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi blew into a political confrontation on Monday, as the Congress charged the BJP with a "police state mentality" while the government dismissed the episode as a "non-issue".
The issue figured both inside and outside parliament, as Congress members raised it vociferously in both houses.
The issue was raised was raised by Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge in the Lok Sabha and Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad in the Rajya Sabha. The Congress staged a walkout over the issue in the upper house.
The spat continued outside the house, with Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi accusing the government of spreading misinformation on the issue of Delhi Police proforma.
He said Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi or their offices had never filled the proforma.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu said the Congress had a "track record" of snooping and alleged that then finance minister Pranab Mukherjee had complained to then prime minister Manmohan Singh about alleged bugging devices in his office.
He also said there was distrust on the issue between the finance ministry and home ministry.
Raising the issue of alleged snooping on Rahul Gandhi in the Lok Sabha, Kharge said Delhi Police paid three visits to his residence in the past 15 days and asked who ordered the visits.
He said the Special Protection Group (SPG) personnel at Gandhi's residence had caught a Delhi Police official in "suspicious circumstances" on March 2 and the proforma carried by the police official had questions like name of father, complexion, colour of eyes and kind of shoes worn by Gandhi.
"Rahul ji is under protection of SPG. The government has minute to minute information (about his movements). Why was a proforma sent?" he asked.
Gandhi is, at present, on "leave of absence" to reflect on the Congress party's future course.
Kharge alleged that the government wanted to suppress its opponents.
"Is it the Gujarat model in BJP government? What is the thinking going on about opponents?" he asked.
Naidu said 526 VVIPs (very very important persons) had been profiled over the years.
He said Sonia Gandhi, former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, BJP leaders L.K. Advani, Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh and Sushma Swaraj were among those profiled.
Naidu said Vajpayee had also been asked questions about his dress and footwear.
"Sonia ji... same proforma was given to her. It is a routine exercise. Nothing to do with this model or that. Gujarat is pride of the country... (you) are making an issue out of non-issue. My government does not believe in surveillance," Naidu said.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the issue concerning security should not be trivialised.
He referred to the Congress' digs at the proforma seeking information about shoes, and said the body of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was recognised by the shoes he was wearing after his assassination in Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu in May 1991.
He said if it was snooping, police would do it on the sly and not seek details after coming to anyone's house.
"I can understand you are short of issues. Don't invent an issue which does not exist," he added.
Raising the issue in the Rajya Sabha, Azad said he had not come across such a proforma though he had Z-plus security for many years.
"Is the government trying to threaten political parties by such spying?" Azad asked.
"Religious freedom is going down, and now political freedom is going down. The home minister should make a statement," he said.
He was joined by other opposition parties like the Janata Dal-United and the Samajwadi Party.
Speaking to reporters, Naidu said Congress leaders were running an orchestrated campaign to show they were "more loyal than king" and their strategy had boomeranged.
Singhvi, however, said the government was "deliberately trying to confuse the issue".
He said the party's objections were not about a proforma being filled.
"We had a police state mentality first in a state and now overall. When you are in opposition, big brother is watching you," he said, and alleged that such a watch extended to allies of the NDA and some BJP members also.
He said if information was to be obtained, police could have sent a questionnaire to Gandhi's office or sought an interview.