NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A state governed by Indian opposition candidate for prime minister Narendra Modi has launched an investigation into allegations he ordered invasive surveillance of an architect, in a case his opponents say shows a tendency to abuse power.
Modi has topped several recent opinion polls ahead of general elections in six months, but the allegations could tarnish his carefully crafted image as a pro-business and graft-free administrator.
Two Indian investigative websites - Cobrapost and Gulail - said earlier this month that they had access to 267 audio recordings that had been handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation.
They said the recordings contain telephone conversations from 2009 in which Modi's former junior home minister Amit Shah orders a police officer to track the woman.
It was unclear why the woman was being followed.
"A commission has been formed to find out the truth in connection to these allegations," said Gujarat state cabinet minister Nitin Patel.
Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party has dismissed the charges as part of "dirty tricks" in the lead-up to the elections.
His campaign has focused on beating corruption, following a series of graft scandals concerning the ruling Congress party, and reviving India's economy, which has slumped to its lowest growth in a decade.
But his critics see an authoritarian and a divisive figure who failed to stop riots in Gujarat in 2002, in which more than 1,000 people were killed, most of them Muslims. A Supreme Court inquiry found no evidence to prosecute him.
The Congress said an investigation by the Gujarat government in the latest case could not be fair and has instead been demanding an investigation by a Supreme Court judge into what the local media has called "snoopgate".
In the phone recordings, the person alleged to be home minister Shah asks the surveillance to be carried out for his "saheb" - the respectful Hindi word for boss - when giving orders to police officer G L Singhal, who secretly recorded the conversations. Modi is not named.
The woman was tailed as she visited shopping malls, ice-cream parlors, hospitals and airports, according to the websites' expose.
Senior members of India's ruling Congress party dismissed the panel as a whitewash that could prevent a proper investigation taking place.
"The commission has been formed by the Gujarat government to shield Modi. This has become the standard practice of this government whenever the chief minister is in legal trouble," said Gujarat Congress president Arjun Modhwadia.
The two-person panel consists of Sugnaben Bhatt, a retired high court judge, and K C Kapoor, a retired senior civil servant. Bhatt previously led a commission that looked into whether floods in Gujarat in 2006 were the result of poor dam maintenance and gave a clean chit to the state government.
A letter by the woman's father last week denied that there had been any unwanted surveillance. The father stated that he had asked Modi to keep a watch on his daughter for her safety.
The panel is due to submit its report to the Gujarat government within three months.
(Writing by Shyamantha Asokan; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)