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Centre drops snoop judge plan

New Delhi, May 5: The Centre has decided not to appoint a judge to probe the Gujarat “snoopgate”, stepping back after the Prime Minister and the President advised caution and sections of the Congress feared the move could be perceived as vindictive.

The climbdown came a day after UPA allies NCP and the National Conference voiced opposition, saying no such decision should be taken in the “dying hours” of the government.

Sources said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sounded reluctant when his clearance was sought to name a judge to head a commission that will probe allegations the Narendra Modi government had illegally snooped on a young woman architect in 2009.

Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, who had last week announced the judge would be named before the May 16 election results, is now learnt to have conveyed the Prime Minister’s sentiment to the Congress high command.

President Pranab Mukherjee’s office is believed to have demurred too, concerned that naming a judge barely 10 days before the results would not look proper.

A section of Congress functionaries has stepped in too, telling Sonia Gandhi and Rahul any move that makes the UPA look vindictive may hurt the party in the remaining two phases of voting.

But some Congress insiders seemed to rue the change of mind and believed a turf war between the home and law ministries delayed the move till the elections.

By the time the Kapil Sibal-headed law ministry recommended the name of a judge, voting had already begun. Several rounds of consultations took place and at one point, legal opinion given to Sonia was that the Centre was within its rights to appoint a judge.

But Sonia and Rahul sought wider consultations. A Union minister reportedly called on President Mukherjee but came back with the impression that Rashtrapati Bhavan was opposed to any “hasty” decision.

A Union minister said: “Some crucial time was lost since the government decided to appoint a commission (in December). Then inter-ministerial and bureaucratic tussles caused a delay. This was followed by differences over the political fallout. In the end, we felt it was not worth destroying the credibility of the UPA.”

The minister, who declined to be named, claimed, however, that a limited purpose had been achieved. “We managed to convey to voters that issues pertaining to privacy and women safety need attention.”

The plan hit a wall yesterday after NCP chief Sharad Pawar reportedly spoke to the Prime Minister from London to convey his opposition. The NCP is the second largest constituent of the UPA.

“ When the results of the Lok Sabha elections are due in (less than) two weeks’ time, where is the need for such an inquiry?” Pawar’s NCP colleague and Union minister Praful Patel had said yesterday. National Conference leader and Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted that “setting up a commission of inquiry in the dying hours of UPA 2 is just wrong”.

Within the Congress now, minister Sibal has reportedly drawn flak for the delay. Two days ago, he had insisted the Centre would name a judge before May 16.

The party however, tried to keep the issue alive by tying it to the larger question of women’s safety. Congress spokesperson and Mahila Congress chief Shoba Oza hoped that the new government would go ahead with the probe.

“The issue is far more serious as it does not involve any political party but the safety of women of the country.The issue is not the personal business of anyone. How does it matter (that a judge was not appointed so far)? There will be a commission and there will be a judge,” Oza said.

The Congress has posed 10 questions to the BJP on “snoopgate”, asking senior leaders Modi, Amit Shah and Arun Jaitley to “come clean” on it.