Amid opposition uproar, Centre denies snooping on Rahul Gandhi

New Delhi: The central government on Monday dismissed as a "non-issue" the charges of snooping on Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi as members of the party, supported by other political parties, created an uproar in parliament.

The alleged snooping on Rahul Gandhi was raised by Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge in the Lok Sabha and Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad in the Rajya Sabha.

Kharge, who spoke after question hour, said Delhi Police paid three visits to Rahul Gandhi's residence in the past 15 days. He asked the government to clarify who ordered the visits.

He said the Special Protection Group personnel at Gandhi's residence had caught a Delhi Police official in "suspicious circumstances" earlier this month.

He said 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.

Rahul 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.

The Congress leader said Delhi Police should be given the "who's who" book that has information about parliamentarians.

"It, however, does not have information on size of shoe," Kharge said, taking a dig at Delhi Police and the central government.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu said 526 VVIPs (very very important persons) had been profiled over the years.

Naidu said Congress president Sonia Gandhi, former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, BJP leaders L.K. Advani, Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh and Sushma Swaraj were among those profiled.

He said President Pranab Mukherjee was also profiled when he was part of the UPA government.

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.

Responding to allegations made by the Congress, union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said in the Rajya Sabha that 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 at the time of his death.

Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu in May 1991 during an election meeting.

"Therefore, what kind of shoe you wear may look funny to the Congress party today but it is relevant for security purposes," Jaitley said.

"If it's snooping, they (police) will do it on the sly. If they come to your house and ask you to fill up details, it is not snooping. It is for security purposes."

"I can understand you are short of issues. Don't invent an issue which does not exist," he added.

Jaitley urged the members not to act as security experts.

"The issue you have raised is making mountain of what is not even molehill," he said.

Earlier, raising the issue, 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? Are they trying to say if we raise our voice, inside or outside parliament, the central government will use any tactic to suppress their political rivals," 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.

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