DELHI // A series of revelations and allegations in recent months have exposed a murky world of bugging and phone tapping in India's corridors of power.
Unlike the phone-hacking scandal in Britain - where reporters at Rupert Murdoch's News International were caught listening to celebrities and public figures to generate news - in India, secret surveillance is more often tied up with vendettas between members of the political and corporate elite.
In June this year, it emerged that the finance minister, Pranab Mukherjee, had complained to the prime minister that his offices might have been bugged.
While no proof was made public, opposition parties seized on the fact that Mr Mukherjee had used private investigators to look into the incident, rather than relying on the government's Intelligence Bureau (IB).
The implication was that he suspected the home minister, P Chidambaram, who oversees the IB, of being behind the bugging. Although both sides have denied the allegations, it is well known that Mr Mukherjee and Mr Chidambaram are bitter political rivals.
"It's part of a wider power struggle," said Tarun Tejpal, editor of Tehelka, a weekly political magazine. "Both see a slim chance that the prime minister may step down in the near future, and they are pushing and shoving for position."
A senior member of the intelligence community with knowledge of the incident confirmed that the IB was increasingly misused by politicians.
"Naturally, the intelligence services develop close ties with their political bosses, but recently it has gone too far and now they are being caught in their own web," he said.
"It is very sad. Using a vital department like the Intelligence Bureau in this way is like asking a heart surgeon to make you a cup of tea."
Last week, one of the leaders of the popular anti-corruption movement accused the government of tapping his team's phones.
Arvind Kejriwal, the right-hand man to hunger strike activist Anna Hazare, said Delhi police had contacted him within minutes of a phone call in which he and Mr Hazare had planned a quiet trip to the capital.
"Under the law, your phone can be tapped only if you are a threat to national security," said Mr Kejriwal. "I want to ask the government - are we a threat to national security?"
The government denied the allegations, but rights groups say a lack of oversight on intelligence departments makes it hard to hold security agencies to account.
"At the moment, they do not need a judicial warrant to listen to your conversations," said Pushkar Raj, general secretary of the People's Union for Civil Liberties.
"Without an oversight mechanism, surveillance is liable to be used for political purposes. That is happening, and it is a violation of the constitution and fundamental rights."
Evidence leaked to Delhi-based Outlook magazine last year found that dozens of leading politicians, including Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and Communist party leader Prakash Karat, had been tapped by the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), an intelligence-gathering agency created in the aftermath of the Kargil War between India and Pakistan over Kashmir in 1999.
One of the most publicised eavesdropping cases emerged later that year, when recordings were leaked to the media of conversations between corporate lobbyist Niira Radia and a slew of senior politicians, journalists and business leaders.
Ms Radia, whose clients included Mukesh Ambani, India's richest man, and Ratan Tata, head of India's richest company, was heard having chummy conversations with journalists and trying to secure their help in getting a politician from Tamil Nadu, Andimuthu Raja, appointed as telecoms minister.
He got the job, but was later arrested on charges of fraudulently allocating mobile phone licences at knock-down prices in what is thought to be India's biggest corruption scandal.
No clear signs of criminality came directly from the tapes, but they fuelled a general public disgust with the perceived dealings among India's elite. One of those who came off worst from the episode was Vir Sanghvi, a leading political columnist with the Hindustan Times. The tapes indicated he had moulded one of his columns to meet Ms Radia's specifications.
A year on, he now claims the tapes were doctored, and last week produced reports from three forensic laboratories in the US and UK that suggest they were at least edited.
"They digitally synthesised my voice in places," said Mr Sanghvi. "There are things on those tapes I would never have said."
The tapping was originally done by the income tax department following allegations against Ms Radia that were later abandoned.
What no one knows is who leaked the tapes and why.
"This was a massive operation," said Mr Sanghvi. "Someone went through thousands of hours of recordings, selected key conversations and anonymously distributed them to every major newspaper. This was more than the work of a disgruntled income tax official."
Conspiracy theories abound. Some think it was investigators working on the telecoms scam who wanted to kick-start public interest in the case. Others see the hand of a well-known industrialist with links to the telecoms scandal. He cannot be named for legal reasons, but he told Mr Tejpal from Tehelka at the time that: "If I'm going down, I'm taking everyone with me."