A Deeper State

Vigilantism and surveillance in Modi’s Gujarat

Members of the Delhi Pradesh Mahila Congress hold a protest, in November 2013, following allegations that the Modi government in Gujarat had been spying on a woman architect. Sushil Kumar/Hindustan Times
13 February, 2024

THE NOTION OF a “deep state”—which has been mostly used, in South Asia, about Pakistan—refers to a political system where power is ultimately exerted in a secret manner by security forces in conjunction with (or without) politicians. Lately, Josy Joseph has applied this category to contemporary India in that sense. Unsurprisingly, he devotes one full chapter to “the Gujarat model.”

But in the Gujarat of this time, state authority did not only rely on a “deep state”; it also ruled over people through the network of the Sangh Parivar and, more specifically, through vigilante groups which had penetrated and permeated society in such a way as to fashion a “deeper state.”

Any deep state is a surveillance state—and Gujarat tended to become such a one in the early 2000s. The BJP government revealed its intention to resort to phone tapping soon after coming into power in 2001 and then allegedly resorted to the technique despite it being illegal to do so. In December 2001, three months after he was appointed chief minister, the Gujarat cabinet approved the draft of the Gujarat Control of Organised Crime (GujCOC) Ordinance and sent it for approval to the Government of India. The latter approved it—after some minor amendments in 2002—but asked the state government to have it passed as a law in March 2003. It did so and in April sent the bill to the Union Home Ministry for presidential assent. Then, interestingly, the BJP-led government of AB Vajpayee returned the bill to the Gujarat Assembly and asked the Modi government to remove two sections: the one which allowed phone tapping (in the original GujCOC bill, district collectors and police were permitted to intercept and record phone calls) and held that intercepted telephone conversations could be considered legitimate evidence; and the section according to which a confession made before a police officer could also be considered as evidence. The original bill was sent again to Pratibha Patil in 2008 and to Pranab Mukherjee in 2015, but they returned it too. In 2019, President Kovind finally gave his assent.

Even though this practice had not been legalised, the Gujarat Government asked Intelligence Bureau officers to tap phones of political opponents soon after taking over power in Gujarat. On 16 April 2002, Modi instructed RB Sreekumar, the additional director general of police in charge of intelligence, “to start tapping the telephone of Shri Shankarsinh Vaghela [who had just become the head of the Gujarat state Congress].” This demand was reiterated on 26 July 2002, when, incidentally, the chief minister also asked Sreekumar “to prepare Assembly Constituency Profile of [the] 182 ACs [Assembly constituencies].”

Christophe Jaffrelot is a contributing editor at The Caravan. He has authored several books including The Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politics and Modi’s India: Hindu Nationalism and the rise of Ethnic Democracy. He is a senior research fellow at CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS, Paris; a professor of Indian Politics and Sociology at King’s India Institute, London; and a non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.