ON 26 JULY 2014, two months after Narendra Modi became the prime minister, the Sunday Guardian broke a story that sophisticated listening devices had been found in the official residence of Nitin Gadkari, a minister in Modi’s cabinet. The newspaper, closely aligned with the Bharatiya Janata Party, cited an anonymous source saying that the devices had been planted by US intelligence, and Subramanian Swamy, a member of parliament with the newly ruling BJP, alleged that the bugging had been done under the previous, Congress-led government.
Gadkari himself, in a tweet the next morning, called the story “highly speculative,” but stopped short of dismissing it outright. In parliament, opposition parties called for a probe and a statement from the prime minister, disrupting proceedings for two days. The home minister, Rajnath Singh, denied the story, but this did not dissuade them. It was a strange situation: the opposition was protesting the surveillance of a ruling minister, while members of the ruling party seemed too scared to speak up.
The report of the bugging erupted against the background of persistent rumours that ministers were under surveillance by the prime minister’s office. A story circulated of how the environment minister, Prakash Javadekar, while on the way to the airport attired in jeans at the start of an official trip abroad, received a call telling him that he was dressed too casually. In television debates on the bugging, the possibility of surveillance by the government or someone within the BJP cropped up time and again. Congress leaders pointed back to 2013, when there were allegations that Modi, as the chief minister of Gujarat, had put a woman under surveillance for no legally tenable reason. The Congress leader Digvijay Singh stated that Modi and Amit Shah—Modi’s main lieutenant, and his home minister when he ruled Gujarat—“have sort of had a record.”