Government today re-ignited the 'snoopgate' issue allegedly involving Narendra Modi by asserting that a judicial Commission to probe it will be in place by May 16, evoking an angry reaction by BJP which warned of reviewing the "illegitimate" decision if it comes to power.
The party also warned of similar action if the government goes ahead with the "last-minute" moves to set up the Lokpal search committee and appoint Central Information Commissioners.
Reviving the 'snoopgate', involving spying on a young woman allegedly at the behest of Modi, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and Law Minister Kapil Sibal said that an inquiry commission will be in place by the end of the Lok Sabha election process on May 16.
The government had decided on December 26 last year to set up the inquiry Commission but the process has got delayed reportedly because of its inability to zero in on a judge.
"The Cabinet had taken the decision to appoint a Commission of Inquiry to probe the incident of snooping on a woman in Gujarat. We will soon appoint the judge....Before May 16," Shinde told a press conference in Shimla.
Asked if the appointment of a judge in the midst of Lok Sabha elections would not amount to violation of the Model Code of Conduct, Shinde said, "It will not. The decision had been taken by the Union Cabinet much before the model code of conduct came into force."
"I am worried. The way the Chief Minister of Gujarat had snooped into the life of a woman, I am really worried what will happen to the women of the country if he becomes the Prime Minister," Shinde said.
In New Delhi, Law Minister Kapil Sibal also said that a judge will be appointed by May 16.
Reacting sharply, BJP leader Arun Jaitley said the government was showing "desperation" and that it will be within the purview of the new government to hold this decision as "illegitimate".
The party also charged the government of "stooping low" by attempting to appoint a judge merely 15 days ahead of the next government formation.
"In the last 10 days when the last two phases of polling is left, government is appointing Central Information Commissioners, they are trying to complete the Lokpal Search Committee and appoint a judge on the Snoopgate, where no judge is making himself available for the last five months."
"There is desperation in UPA to fill these posts and there is an intention as well as attempts in this regard. BJP will strongly oppose all such moves," Jaitley said.
He said the bureaucracy should give the political part of government "the right advice" so that it takes decisions which are as per past traditions.
"If they still do (go ahead), it will be well within the purview of the next government to hold such actions as illegitimate," the BJP leader said.
To a question on whether the government can make the appointments before its tenure ends, he said, "The Centre has no right at this stage to form a Committee."
Asked if a Commission will be legally tenable, he said, "At this stage when the Code of Conduct is in operation, how is it legally tenable."
He added that the Gujarat government had already set up a Commission to probe the issue.
Asked when it would give its report, Jaitley said it would take "one per cent" of the time taken by Liberhan Commission which went into Ayodhya demolition issue.
Jaitley had yesterday said he would be "surprised" if there is a judge who has "agreed to 'lend' himself to the UPA".
Rubbishing it, Union Minister Sibal said BJP is worried as its leaders know that "once the Commission is set up, there is no saving for Narendra Modi because there is documentary evidence of what he (Modi) has done and how he has snooped the activities of a young girl..."
The government had announced that the Commission, to be headed by a retired Supreme Court judge or a retired Chief Justice of a High Court, will also look into charges of snooping on Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh by the previous BJP government when he was in the opposition as well as the leaking of the call data records (CDR) of Jaitley in Delhi.
The Union Cabinet took the decision under the Commissions of Inquiry Act under which the Modi government had already set up a similar panel.
There were reports that as no retired judge was willing to head the probe commission, the UPA government was mulling the option of changing the terms of reference for the commission by incorporating a provision that will allow the government to appoint a sitting judge of a high court.
"They (BJP) are worried about the national Commission set up by the Centre and I think, they should continue to be worried because the Commission will be set up and he will be investigated and he will be brought to book," said Sibal, a senior Congress leader.
Asserting that it has nothing to fear, BJP accused Congress of "stooping low" in "desperation" and said the next government would be within its rights to review the "malafide" last-minute decision.
BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said the government assertion was "a reflection of arrogance" of the UPA government, which, he claimed, would be voted out of power.
The party accused the Congress of "deliberately" diverting the attention of people from the real issues of unemployment, price rise and corruption.
"They are trying desperately to get at least one Judge to agree to head the 'Snoopgate' commission. I doubt very much if any of these moves is likely to succeed. Even if it did, the future government would be well within its legitimate rights to review such a malafide last-minute decision of the UPA," Jaitley said.
"It is not snoopgate, it is stoop-gate. The Home Minister of India is stooping to this level. I can see the desperation.... No judge is willing to inquire into it, but they are insisting. We don't fear from you," Prasad said.
"I would expect that so many judges have refused in the past and the sanctity and dignity of the judiciary will not be compromised for ulterior motive of the Congress party," he said.
BJP leader Subramanian Swamy said EC would be approached if the announcement is made during the polls.