The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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UP keeps ‘tapping’ lines crackling
- Amar apology to pmo

New Delhi, Jan. 9: Soon, you will need a logbook as thick as the once-indispensable telephone directories to keep track of the tapping controversy.

Monday’s entries:

Amar Singh petitions the Supreme Court for a judicial probe

Amar apologises to the Prime Minister for levelling charges against PMO officials

L.K. Advani claims he was told his landlines were “under surveillance” when the Iraq oil-for-food scam was raging

Mulayam Singh Yadav alleges that the Congress and a “top industrialist” had plotted to kill him

BJP’s Kalyan Singh says Sonia Gandhi is “too mature” a politician to indulge in “things like phone-tapping”.

However, through the cacophony, certain notes rang loud and clear. The Samajwadi Party, the BJP and the Congress have started warming up for the battle for Uttar Pradesh, due in early 2007.

On a larger canvas, the BJP, or specifically Advani, seems determined to hammer away at his pet theme of how the Congress had not shed its “Big Brother Emergency mindset”.

While Mulayam was looking to extract political mileage from the controversy, for his second-in-command Amar, it was a matter of saving his “name and prestige” by knocking on the apex court’s door.

Stating that the Indian Telegraph Act permitted phone interception only during a “public emergency” or “in the interest of public safety”, Amar contended in his petition that none of the two conditions had arisen now. Therefore, there was “no justification” for tapping his phone.

He alleged that a “concerted” campaign was afoot to “malign, discredit and cause tremendous damage” to him and the Samajwadi Party as was “evident from the various statements made by the spokesperson of the Congress” (Ambika Soni).

Amar has made Reliance Infocomm, owned by his close friend Anil Ambani, a respondent. A man associated with the telecom company was arrested during police investigations into the controversy. The Congress, through its president, is another of the eight respondents.

However, after a denial from the Prime Minister’s media adviser that neither the national security adviser, M.K. Narayanan, nor the joint secretary in the PMO, Pulok Chatterjee, was “involved”, Amar apologised.

“If the PMO is hurt over what I have said, I offer my apology,” he said but continued to target the Congress. Amar claimed that the phone of former external affairs minister K. Natwar Singh was tapped and he would meet him soon.

The Congress refused to join issue with Amar again, but a party spokesperson, Jayanti Natarajan, slammed the BJP for “jumping the bandwagon” after it had become “bankrupt” of issues.

“It is a sorry state of affairs that the BJP has become so bankrupt that it does not have an issue of its own. So much so that they are borrowing issues from Amar Singh,” she said.

Natarajan said the timing of the BJP’s allegation was “suspect” and asked why Advani did not complain earlier, especially when the oil scandal was being debated in Parliament.

On Amitabh Bachchan’s reported comments that orders had “come from Delhi” for tax officials to demand Rs 5 crore when he was in hospital, Soni said later that the actor “has every right to say anything or protest anything if he thinks he has been wronged. He has to raise it at the correct forum.”

If the Samajwadi Party thought its campaign against the Congress would get more muscle with the BJP pitching in, Kalyan quashed the hope. Addressing an RSS camp in Meerut, the former Uttar Pradesh chief minister gave a clean chit to Sonia.

He dismissed the Samajwadi Party allegation as “irrelevant (and) baseless”. Observers interpreted the comment as a signal from Kalyan to the BJP high command that he should not be ignored under Rajnath Singh’s dispensation.

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