As the political drama over the now infamous Amit Shah tapes unfolds, it is difficult to decide which is more dismaying: the offence or its impassioned defence.
According to the evidence presented on the audio recordings, the home minister of Gujarat employed critical law enforcement resources of the state to monitor every movement and conversation of a woman dubbed Madhuri. To compound these constitutional violations, the person purported to be Shah tells senior police officer GL Singhal to throw one of her associates in jail for no apparent crime.
The BJP has not challenged the authenticity of the tapes with any measure of seriousness, nor has it distanced Narendra Modi from the mess, leaving Shah to fend for himself. The party defence instead can be summed up as thus: Her daddy made Modi do it. What is astounding is that Modi supporters appear to have embraced this explanation as reasonable and appropriate. More outrageous than the illegal and unjustified surveillance of a private citizen is the stance of those who deem such a violation as justified, even routine.
Given this sorry state of affairs, it may be necessary to spell out the painfully obvious. Here then are three reasons why the alleged surveillance is shameful, and why the BJP defence is no less so.
One, the power of the state is not private property.
Madhuri's father claims that he asked Modi to "take care of my daughter and to ensure that she does not face any problem. He assured me as a political head of the state." Setting aside the bizarre notion that surveillance is required to 'take care' of anyone, the anti-terrorism squad is not Modi's personal security posse that he can employ as a favour to a friend.
As Prashant Bhushan explains, "The breach of privacy is a minor part of this saga of shocking crime that exposes the gross misuse of police machinery by the state. When (BJP leader) Arun Jaitley's CDR were accessed by some policemen, the Parliament was stalled for three days." Besides, the privacy of an aam aurat ought to count at least as much as that of Shri Jaitley.
Two, illegal surveillance is a concern for all citizens.
“When the girl and her father are not complaining, who is the Congress to speak?" asks BJP spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi, as though consitutional rights are a private matter. It doesn't matter whether the woman complains or what explanation her father offers. The contract between citizens and their state is premised on the sanctity of certain rights. When the state intrudes on the privacy of any person without due cause, it undermines the rights of all citizens. The alleged surveillance flouted the laws of the land and must be investigated whether the individual files a complaint or not.
(More so as we appear to be living in a quasi-police state where speaking up against politicians is risky business. As Robin Dharmakumar tweeted, "If you believe that the father of the lady Modi/Shah stalked asked for that, you are either incredibly naive, stupid or dishonest.")
And it is laughable to suggest that the duty of the 'political head' of any state is to lend the state's law enforcement resources to tail or snoop on one private citizen on behalf of another. That Lekhi can call this a "case of legal protection' is shameful. There is nothing legal or protective about this level of intrusive surveillance.
Three, women are citizens endowed with inalienable rights.
"'Madhuri's' father says in IE he requested Modi to daughter on watch. Reason? she was having affair with criminal & debauch Pradeep Sharma," tweeted so-called feminist Madhu Kishwar, opening a new line of Modi defence. No less shameful than the defense of illegal surveillance is its patriarchical assumption that men 'possess' women, much like property, and therefore have the right to safeguard the same by any means necessary.
It is clear from the level of anxiety about keeping track of the movements and whereabouts of Madhuri and her associates, the operation was conducted without her knowledge and consent. As Kavitha Krishnan tweeted, "Dad ordering stalking doesn't make it ok! Except 4 Sanghis who want khap service at taxpayer's cost."
"Anyone who has the sensitivity and understanding of the women’s issues would know that anonymity and dignity are the essence of such handlings," says Lekhi. No less of essence is Madhuri's civil liberties, which cannot be ceded to the state by her father. They belong to her alone as the citizen of a democracy. No one has the right to request or order the stalking of a family member or the tapping of their phones, whether it is an anxious father or a jealous husband.
Of course, no one's hands are clean in this dirty affair. Neither the CBI which leaked the tapes nor Singhal who turned them over stands on high moral ground. But perhaps the most depressing revelation of the past weekend is that of the triumph of partisanship over principle, and not just among the political class.
The very same people who complain of the Congress Bureau of Investigation are blithely dismissive of the misuse of the anti-terrorism squad to snoop on a young woman.And not one of the Modi-bhakts who complain about the 'silent' Gandhis are demanding a statement from the great man.
Among his fiercest supporters, loyalty to Modi trumps any other allegiance, be it to the constitution or democratic accountability. And that should give all of us, be we pro- or anti-Modi, serious pause.
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Updated Date: Nov 19, 2013 17:14:18 IST