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Sunday, March 30, 2014

'Snooping' On Rise As 'Parties' Hire Detectives For Rivals

By Kajol Singh | INNLIVE

James Bond had better look over his shoulder. In the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls, all major political parties are turning to private detectives for a variety of tasks-ranging from checking on prospective candidates to gathering dirt on rivals.

Delhi-based detective agencies, which usually focus on more mundane matters like keeping tabs on persons for divorce cases, admit the going has never been so good for them.

The fact that there are state and Lok Sabha polls to contend with, along with the uncertainty surrounding the outcome of polls in many constituencies, has meant that many agencies have hiked their prices.
According to sources in the industry, private operators are charging between Rs.5 lakh and Rs.25 lakh for every assignment because political parties are leaving no stone unturned to ensure that their 'Mission Impossible' is made possible.

Naman Jain, managing director of New Delhi-based detective agency Sleuths India, said business has trebled for him since the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. He attributed the increase to what he calls the "Aam Aadmi Party factor". "The focus today is on clean candidates. Political parties are becoming increasingly conscious about whether their candidates have pending cases against them," he told INNLIVE.

The detective agencies are now handling three types of political investigations. The first is investigating prospective candidates for political parties to ascertain if their background is clean and whether they have strong links with their constituencies. The second and more difficult task is digging up dirt on rival candidates- including whether they have made false declarations to the Election Commission about their assets and whether any litigation is pending against them. 

The third is obtaining information on rival parties themselves- including their agenda and manifesto before it becomes public to frame one's strategies accordingly, sources said.

Obtaining such political information is not easy and the agencies admit that not everyone in their profession can perform such tasks.

"Parties often hire nationwide agencies that have contacts in various parts of the country. Also, such agencies often have connections with former police, crime branch and other officials, ensuring state-of-the-art surveillance," he said.

The other area that has seen growth is the demand for woman private executives, said Akriti Khatri, owner of Delhi-based Venus Detective. "Women detectives are at an advantage for gaining information, especially about female candidates, as their presence arouses less suspicion. We also get a lot of requests from rival candidates for a probe into women's personal lives, as an affair makes them especially vulnerable," she said.

However, there are grey areas in this business. For instance, private agencies claim that while it is not illegal to shadow male candidates (it is for female candidates), many of them opt not to do fearing allegations of "assault" by the person should he come to know.

There are also a range of spy devices used by the detectives that are not strictly within the parameters of the law. Palwinder Singh, owner of Action India, which he claims is "India's first legal spy store", claimed he has regular clientele including people from the military, government agencies and politicians. 

"We provide hidden cameras-such as pen cameras, key ring cameras and watch cameras-which are often used by people to spy on rivals. What they do after that is their business," he said. Singh admits, there are non-legal methods (which he said he does not sell, promote or endorse) through which one can extract information.

"In today's age of smartphones, most people have their contacts, SMS and emails. Hacking software, which can be downloaded onto the target's mobile phone, is the most common. Through this way, one can see the target's text messages, contacts and emails from any computer," he said.

Sources said, however, that such methods are expensive and only major parties go in for this option. Whatever the result of the polls, it is clear our local James Bonds are not going away anytime soon. With candidates to follow, spy on and bug, the race to be 007-with a license to kill someone's budding political career-is very much on.
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