New Delhi: With campaigning for the Lok Sabha polls gaining momentum, private detective agencies are having a boom time as they are being hired on a large scale by candidates and parties to keep tabs on their rivals.
Though spy agencies were engaged by parties in previous elections as well, this time the trend has changed from "political investigation" to "vote management packages", experts say.
According to industry sources, there are over 15,000 spy agencies operating in the country of which at least 50 specialise in political espionage and have trained personnel who have a good understanding of political investigation.
A number of political parties, when approached, refrained from taking questions on the issue but many spy agencies on condition of anonymity admitted to having been approached by candidates and political parties for the Lok Sabha polls.
Naman Jain, managing director of the New Delhi-based detective agency Sleuths India said that they have been hired for certain assignments for the elections but refused to disclose the names of the parties.
Kunwar Vikram Singh, chairman of Association of Private Detectives and Investigators, said this time specialised agencies are being roped in for vote management packages rather than to keep a tab on political opponents.
"Hiring any private detective featuring in yellow pages was the trend in 2009 elections. Now that trend has changed," he said, adding that this time the agencies were hired by some parties months before.
"The investigation does not basically involve spying on others but takes into consideration certain other factors like booth-level information, voters' aspirations, strategies, the modus operandi of the opposition candidates and parties and much more," said Mr Singh.
Giving broad ideas about assignments being given to the spy agencies, Mr Naman said that basically there are three types of "tasks" for which detectives are being engaged by politicians.
In the first phase, Mr Naman said, agencies were hired by the parties to select candidates, primarily to know their "winnability factor".
"The aim of such investigation was to do a background check of the prospective candidates, including their popularity," he said.
The background check includes whether a candidate has any criminal records.
"Secondly, some parties are hiring detective agencies to keep a tab on the activities of their own party workers. The main aim of that is to see whether anybody is acting as a back stabber or passing on important information to rivals," he said.
"In the third type of investigation, parties wish to have information about the election strategy and activities of other parties so they can mould their campaigning and strategies accordingly," added Mr Naman.
The budget for such investigations usually range from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 25 lakh, depending on the type of investigation or follow-ups.
If a spy agency has already been hired by a political party or an individual then, according to the broad policy framework, it does not take any assignment from the opponents.
That is to maintain the credibility of the information and to avoid conflict of interest, he said.