New Delhi, June 22 : Despite the dismissal by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee of charges that his office had been bugged, rumours continued to swirl in the capital's political corridors of a major security breach, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) continuing to insist it had the making of "India's Watergate" and needed a thorough probe.
"It's bogus. Don't waste your time on this," a visibly irritated Mukherjee told reporters outside his North Block office, a day after the Indian Express reported that the minister told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about a "serious breach of security" in his office last year.
Mukherjee had reportedly demanded a secret inquiry into the alleged planting of "adhesives" at 16 key locations in his office, suggesting that there was a possible surveillance attempt. On Tuesday, Mukherjee, the number two in the government, had said that the Intelligence Bureau had investigated the matter and "they found there is nothing".
But the opposition was not satisfied. Calling it "India's Watergate", BJP leader Sushma Swaraj said the Intelligence Bureau's reported argument that the adhesives found in Mukherjee's office were chewing gums was a joke and shocking.
In her tweet Tuesday night, she said: "In either case it is a matter of grave concern. It is India's Watergate and needs to be thoroughly investigated."
She was referring to the Watergate scandal, which unravelled in early 1970 following a break-in to plant bugs at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, which governs the day-to-day working of the Democratic party. The headquarters were located in Watergate building in the US capital Washington. The Watergate scandal ultimately led to the resignation of president Richard Nixon.
"Is it that the government was spying on its own finance minister? Or is it a corporate house? The finance minister may have his own compulsions of playing it down," Sushma Swaraj said. "The chewing gum theory is hard to digest."
"There are two questions in this incident - whether the spying was being done by the government itself or some corporate house was getting it done.
"If the government was doing this, it is an example of the growing mistrust between the ministers in the government. And if it was being done by a corporate house, it is a big lapse in security cordon," she added.
Both ways, she said, it was "very important" to have a probe.
M K Dhar, former joint director in the Intelligence Bureau, pointed fingers towards corporate houses for bugging the offices of the finance minister.
"Some big corporate house might have spied on the finance minister during budget time. The corporate honchos can easily access the North Block office of the minister and can been seen in the lobbies during office hours," Dhar told IANS.
"Adhesives were pasted at 16 places - this indicates that they can then easily insert one and half inch radio transmitters inside and can hear the voices of the minister within 100 yards," Dhar added.
BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar termed the matter "serious".
"The nation will not be satisfied with Mukherjee's U-turn that there is nothing serious involved. We demand a complete inquiry.
"There are so many agencies under the home ministry, he did not take their help," he added. "It is proof that there is a big trust deficit between the ministers in the government."
The discovery of the adhesives and grooves was first made by private detectives summoned by the Central Board of Direct Taxes, which reports to the finance minister.
According to the Indian Express, Mukherjee wrote to the prime minister in September last year after the discoveries in his office and in the adjoining offices and conference rooms.
The Communist Party of India (CPI) said the story read like "an American thriller".
"It looks like an American thriller, bugging in (the) president's office, bugging in some official's office, that has come to India," the CPI's D. Raja told IANS.
The Congress said it was disgusted with the BJP.
Party spokeswoman Jayanthi Natarajan told reporters that Mukherjee, one of the senior-most leaders in the Congress, had already called the reports "bogus".
"I would like to repeat what he has said, and dismiss these charges as completely an attempt by the BJP to divert attention from their own internal degeneration and internal rebellion in their own ranks."