Amid allegations Maharashtra BJP tapped the phones of senior opposition leaders, including NCP and Shiv Sena chiefs Sharad Pawar and Uddhav Thackeray, when it ruled the state, Sena leader Sanjay Raut today claimed a senior BJP leader had told him his phone calls and messages were, in fact, being monitored. Mr Raut, who was fiercely critical of the BJP in the days and weeks following last year's Assembly election and the split in relations between the two parties, also said he had nothing to hide and that he "welcomed" anybody who wanted to listen to his conversations.
"'Your phone is being tapped'... I have been informed by a senior BJP minister. I said, 'Sir... if anyone wants to listen to my conversations, they are welcome to do so," Sanjay Raut said this morning on Twitter.
"I am a disciple of Bal Thackeray. I don't say or do anything in secrecy. It is all in the open... so go ahead, listen to my phone conversations," Mr Raut added.
On Thursday Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh alleged the previous government - led by the BJP's Devendra Fadnavis - misused government machinery to tap phones of senior opposition leaders.
Former Chief Minister Fadnavis today denied his government issued any such orders, saying "phone-tapping is not the culture of Maharashtra".
"The whole country knows the credibility of those who have levelled such allegations," Mr Fadnavis, who is now Leader of the Opposition, said in a statement.
Pointing out that a Shiv Sena leader was Home Minister during his tenure, Mr Fadnavis also demanded the current government conduct an inquiry and make the report public.
An inquiry has been ordered into this matter, the Home Minister said, confirming that the Maharashtra Police's Cyber Cell department had been directed to investigate.
"This inquiry is being done following complaints by leaders, especially during formation of the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA, the non-BJP front, consisting of the Shiv Sena, the NCP and the Congress, in power in the state)," the minister added.
The MVA - an alliance of ideologically disparate parties - came to power after October elections delivered a fractured mandate. The BJP, which failed in a controversial last-gasp attempt to seize the reins, and the Sena, which had contested the polls together, broke up after disagreements over power-sharing, paving the way for the non-BJP government.
In his comments the Home Minister also spoke about trips to Israel to "study snooping software", comments that reference the WhatsApp snooping row, involving an Israeli-made spyware called Pegasus, that broke late last year.
"There were reports that some officers were sent to Israel to study snooping software... we are finding out who and whether there was any official engagement," he said, noting that there was "no doubt" the previous government had illegally tapped leaders' phones.
The WhatsApp controversy broke out in November after the messaging platform, which is owned by Facebook, said nearly 1,400 mobile phone users worldwide had been targeted by the spyware.
Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of Bengal, were among those who claimed to have had their phones hacked, in a scandal that saw the centre accused of spying on individuals who opposed its political ideology.
With input from PTI