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New Delhi: Four Intelligence Bureau (IB) sleuths were collared by Alok Verma’s security staff for spying on him outside his central Delhi home on Thursday, pointing to a climate of increasing surveillance of the sidelined director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

Senior officials in the Union home ministry as well as the Delhi Police denied having any links to the episode, while people familiar with the development said the IB men had indeed been deployed in the vicinity of Verma’s home—but not to spy on him.

“The area where the CBI director stays is a high-security zone and several VIP officials are housed there. This was a regular patrolling duty and should not be misinterpreted," said a senior central government official, seeking anonymity.

Other former CBI officials, however, have challenged that version of events, saying no CBI director has ever been kept under surreptitious watch.

“This is certainly not normal, but then, Alok Verma is no longer actively the director either. If the government feels he has gone rogue, they will keep watch on him. While nobody is exempt from surveillance, the director is generally not spied upon since he isn’t anti-government," said a former CBI official, who did not wish to be identified.

Another official with knowledge of the matter said the surveillance had been stepped up against Verma after he had called for “certain sensitive files from the ministry of defence just a few days back".

Meanwhile, the Congress party stepped up its attack on the government on the matter, fielding its top brass on Thursday.

The party held two press conferences at its official headquarters, one of which was addressed by party president Rahul Gandhi.

Gandhi sought to link the developments in the CBI with the Rafale deal and said the CBI director was removed because he was going to investigate the case.

“The CBI director was removed by the Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) in the middle of the night. Apart from being an insult to the people of India, it is unconstitutional and illegal. He was removed at 2.00am in the night so the question is why did it happen at that time?" Gandhi told reporters.

“Not only was the CBI director removed, his office too was sealed and incriminating documents were taken...It is illegal for CBI director to be removed and illegal for a new man to be given charge of the CBI," he added, in a reference to the sudden appointment of M. Nageshwar Rao as the interim director.

To step up its pressure on the government, the party has decided to hold protest demonstrations outside all CBI offices in the country on Friday and has asked its senior leaders to take part in them. Rahul Gandhi will lead the party’s protest at the CBI headquarters in the national capital on Friday morning.

Ashok Gehlot, Congress’ general secretary in charge of organisation, in a communication to senior party leaders, conveyed that the larger theme of the protest should be on the lines of the state of public institutions, a senior party leader said.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hit back at the Congress, signalling an institutional war has now become a political battlefield.

“Congress used to interfere each day in the working of the CBI. They used to misuse the agencies each day to threaten their opponents and to save themselves from scams. That same Congress is speaking exactly the reverse now. People of this country are more mature than Rahul Gandhi and they know the difference between true and false," Prakash Javadekar, union minister said in a press conference.

He added that Gandhi’s allegations of document tampering was “utterly fallacious, malicious and manufactured lies".

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