Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee on Wednesday dismissed as "bogus" charges that the government was spying on him even as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) insisted there was a "trust deficit" in the Congress-led ruling coalition.
"It's bogus. Don't waste your time on this," a visibly irritated Mukherjee told reporters outside his North Block office, a day after the news reports said that the minister told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about a "serious breach of security" in his office.
Mukherjee had reportedly demanded a secret inquiry into the alleged planting of "adhesives" at 16 key locations in his office, suggesting that there was a possible surveillance attempt.
On Tuesday, Mukherjee, the number two in the government, had said that the IB had investigated the matter and "they found there is nothing".
But the opposition was not satisfied. Calling it "India's Watergate", BJP leader Sushma Swaraj said the Intelligence Bureau's reported argument that the adhesives found in Mukherjee's office were chewing gums was a joke and shocking.
In her tweet Tuesday night, she said: "In either case it is a matter of grave concern. It is India's Watergate and needs to be thoroughly investigated.
"Is it that the government was spying on its own finance minister? Or is it a corporate house?
"The finance minister may have his own compulsions of playing it down," she said. "The 'chewing gum theory' is hard to digest."
The opposition leader in the Lok Sabha added: "There are two questions in this incident - whether the spying was being done by the government itself or some corporate house was getting it done.
"If the government was doing this, it is an example of the growing mistrust between the ministers in the government. And if it was being done by a corporate house, it is a big lapse in security cordon."
Both ways, she said, it was "very important" to have a probe. BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar called the matter "serious".
"The nation will not be satisfied with Mukherjee's u-turn that there is nothing serious involved. We demand a complete inquiry.
"There are so many agencies under the home ministry, he did not take their help," he added. "It is a proof that there is a big trust deficit between the ministers in government."
The discovery of the adhesives and grooves was first made by private detectives summoned by the Central Board of Direct Taxes, which reports to the finance minister.
The Communist Party of India (CPI) said the story read like "an American thriller".
"It looks like an American thriller, bugging in (the) president's office, bugging in some official's office, that has come to India," CPI's D Raja said.
The Congress said it was disgusted with the BJP.
Party spokeswoman Jayanthi Natarajan told reporters that Mukherjee, one of the senior most leaders in the Congress, had already called the reports "bogus".
"I would like to repeat what he has said, and dismiss these charges as completely an attempt by the BJP to divert attention from their own internal degeneration and internal rebellion in their own ranks."