The buzz in Gujarat amid the spyware revelations is that the now-global story of pillars of democracy being snooped upon via Israeli software could have had has its roots in Gujarat under Narendra Modi.
In this context, a blog post by veteran journalist Rajiv Shah headlined ‘When phone tapping rumours were afloat in Gujarat among BJP leaders, IAS babus’, has become the talk of the state.
Shah retired in 2013 as a political editor with the Ahmedabad edition of The Times of India. In his blog piece , he goes into the history of snooping in Gujarat in the new millennium, and the Israeli sting is in the tail.
“I do recall one incident in this regard, which would somewhat confirm that the Modi establishment in Gujarat may perhaps have tried its hand on this,” Shah writes. “Talking to a senior Gujarat home department official, I asked him whether there was phone tapping in Gujarat, as it was suspected. He said, there were legal procedures laid down for this, which officials had to follow.
“However, this official underlined, he, along with the state DGP and Amit Shah, then minister of state for home, had “seen” a demonstration of an Israeli machine on phone tapping. I asked him how did this work, and this is what he said: You enter in phone numbers, and you could listen (and possibly record) the conversation! “I don’t know if it is at all being used for phone tapping”, he quipped,” Shah adds.
Contacted by Vibes of India, a retired IPS officer also corroborated the buzz about phones being tapped via Israeli software.
“We were told to be very careful by our seniors because an Israeli software was likely to have been experimented with in Gujarat. This was around 2009,” said the retired IPS officer, requesting anonymity.
The NSO, the firm that makes the Pegasus spyware, was reportedly set up in 2010. “There is no question of Pegasus being used but was any Israeli software tested in Gujarat before 2014”, the cop asked.
The retired IPS officer said that when he tried to find out whether the software was purchased by Gujarat police, “the answer revealed was in the negative.”
The retired officer said: “We do not know who bought it. Maybe it was bought under the aegis of some Gujarat government-owned PSU [public sector unit] or by someone else but there was a big buzz about Gujarat using Israeli spyware.”
Rajiv Shah told Vibes of India that the buzz of spyware did not surprise him, because till he retired in 2013 there were always suspicions of spyware in use to tap phones.
“Rumblings about phone tapping in Gujarat date back to a couple of years after Narendra Modi took over as state chief minister in October 2001,” Shah said. “Ironically, those who protested against phone tapping by the Modi government were not from the Congress, but from within the BJP.”
He pointed out, as he has in his blog, that the first to raise a banner against phone tapping was the BJP’s North Gujarat strongman Dr A K Patel. Patel, who is now 90, was close to Modi’s bête noire Keshubhai Patel and at a public meeting openly opposed phone tapping.
Rajiv Shah also writes about Gordhan Zadafia, the controversial Gujarat home minister during the 2002 riots, talking about phone tapping around 2006. This was of course through local police and not through any foreign spyware.
“Keshubhai told me that Zadafia, spoke out rather emotionally about phone tapping at the party MLAs’ meet, with tears rolling down his eyes,” Shah writes in his blog, going on to imply that Zadafia was sidelined later.
In 2009, Rajiv Shah writes in his blog, the rumours of phone tapping surfaced again in Gujarat. “These rumours said phone tapping instruments had been installed “somewhere in Ahmedabad”. Top Gujarat government bureaucrats, whom I was in touch with as part of my duty became extra cautious talking with me on phone, and would advise me to meet them personally, instead,’’ writes Shah. Experts say even if it was not Pegasus, maybe there was some downgraded model of spyware that could have been tested.