February 2020
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National News
Maha phone tapping row hots up; Fadnavis rejects charge
Mumbai: A political slugfest broke out in Maharashtra over Home Minister Anil Deshmukh's allegation that phones of Congress-NCP leaders were tapped by the previous BJP regime during 2019 Lok Sabha and Assembly polls as ex-chief minister Devendra Fadnavis rejected the charges on Friday.

A day after Deshmukh made the sensational claim and ordered a probe, Fadnavis also claimed that he had information that BJP leaders' phones "were being tapped from Madhya Pradesh" during polls.

The Congress, a key constituent of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government, joined the NCP in attacking the BJP and demanded a high-level inquiry into the entire episode.

"The previous BJP-led government had tapped phones of senior NCP and Congress leaders through government machinery ahead of the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls held last year," Deshmukh alleged.

He said there are also allegations that the then government had sent some officials to Israel and brought a software to "intercept" phones of leaders of the Congress and the NCP, which were then in opposition.

Deshmukh did not name the NCP and Congress leaders whose phones were allegedly tapped.

"They had stooped low in politics. We have initiated probe into it," the NCP minister said.

Speaking with the media in Bhandara district in Vidarbha on Friday, Deshmukh reiterated the phone-tapping allegations against the BJP-led government.

"The BJP government, before the polls, tried to gather information about what and with whom these (NCP-Congress) leaders were talking," he said.

Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut on Friday said a BJP leader had informed him that his phone was being tapped by the Fadnavis government, even though Sena was then the BJP's ally.

"I said if anybody wants to listen to what I am saying I welcome it. I am Balasaheb's 'chela' (disciple), whatever I do, I do it openly," Raut told reporters here.

The Sena formed government with the Congress and the NCP in November last year after snapping its alliance with the BJP.

Housing Minister Jitendra Awhad, an NCP leader, on Friday said the phone tapping episode smacks of "sick mentality" of the BJP and added it should be probed.

PWD minister and Congress leader Ashok Chavan alleged the BJP could stoop to any level to get power. He demanded a high-level inquiry into the phone tapping allegations.

The BJP's agenda was to secure unlimited and unbridled power, the Congress leader alleged.

Unperturbed by the allegations, Fadnavis said the MVA government was free to conduct an inquiry into the matter.

"Phone-tapping is not the culture of Maharashtra. My government had not given any such orders," Fadnavis, now the Leader of Opposition in the Assembly, said in a statement.

"The whole country knows the credibility of those who have levelled such allegations," Fadnavis, who was the chief minister of the state between 2014 and 2019, said.

"The state government is free to probe the allegations with the help of any machinery. People of Maharashtra know the truth. A Shiv Sena leader was the minister of state for home during my tenure," he added.

"I have a request - the government should immediately conduct an inquiry and make the report public. If it wants to go to Israel for the probe, it should do that," he said.

Speaking to reporters in Nagpur, Fadnavis said that such allegations were being levelled deliberately to demoralise the state's police force.

"Besides, we had also got information that when elections were underway, the phones of BJP leaders were tapped from Madhya Pradesh. Whether it is true or not, the Madhya Pradesh government or the Central government tell," he said.

"But the Maharashtra government (during his term) did not do such things," he added.

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