India

Rajasthan phone tapping row: Gehlot’s aide denies allegations against him

Jaipur: An aide of Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s office on Saturday refuted allegations of his being involved in phone tapping in the state amid the last year’s rebellion by the state’s former Chief Minister Sachin Pilot.

“The allegation of my involvement in phone tapping is baseless,” said Officer on Special Duty (OSD) Lokesh Sharma, reacting to the allegations against him.

“The audio clips were already there on social media. I received them on WhatsApp and forwarded them to expose the conspiracy to topple the democratically-elected state government,” he added.

Union Jal Shakti minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat has lodged a complaint with Delhi police against Sharma and others for allegedly committing offences of criminal conspiracy and unlawfully intercepting telegraphic signals (telephonic conversation).

Chief Whip Mahesh Joshi said Shekhawat does not trust the police of his state, so he did not give his voice sample to the state’s Special Operation Group and Anti-Corruption Bureau.

Joshi tweeted that Shekhawat should now give his voice sample to the Crime Branch of Delhi Police to prove that his telephone was intercepted.

Based on audio clips, Joshi had lodged FIRs last year with the SOG and ACB over the alleged attempts to topple the state government.

As per the Congress leaders’ allegations, the audio clips purportedly had a telephonic conversation between Gajendra Singh and Congress leaders.

At the same time, Rajasthan’s Parliamentary Affairs Minister Shanti Dhariwal targeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying 90,000 phones were tapped when Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat.

He also questioned why Shekhawat was not giving his voice sample to the state’s agencies.

“Why is he afraid of giving his voice sample? If he comes forward and gives his voice sample, things will become clear,” he told reporters.

The phone-tapping controversy erupted in July last year in Rajasthan during a political crisis due to the rebellion of former Deputy Chief Minister Pilot and 18 other Congress MLAs against Gehlot’s leadership.

These audio clips purportedly having a telephonic conversation between Shekhawat and Congress leaders had surfaced amid the rebellion by the Congress MLAs.

The Congress leaders of Gehlot’s camp had then alleged that the BJP leaders were involved in horse-trading to topple the state government.

Based on the complaint of Shekhawat, who is a BJP MP from Jodhpur, the Delhi police has registered an FIR against Sharma and others under various section of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, Information Technology Act and section 409 (criminal breach of trust by public servant) and 120 B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code.

According to the FIR, Shekhawat has alleged in his complaint that on July 17, 2020, various prominent media houses and news channels had aired some telephonic conversations, allegedly between him, a man named Sanjay Jain and Bhanwar Lal Sharma, a member of the Rajasthan legislative assembly.

In the complaint, Shekhawat alleged that the telephonic conversations were allegedly leaked to the media houses and news channels by Lokesh Sharma, OSD to the Rajasthan chief minister.

When the issue was raised in the recently concluded assembly session, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Shanti Dhariwal had denied the charges that phones of any public representative were tapped.

On BJP’s allegations that the voice clips were circulated by Gehlot’s OSD Lokesh Sharma, the minister had admitted that Sharma had received the audio clips on WhatsApp and had forwarded them.

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