Phone numbers linked to the Janata Dal Secular-Congress government in Karnataka were possible targets for surveillance in 2019, at a time when the ruling coalition collapsed and the BS Yediyurappa-led BJP took power, the Wire has said in the latest revelations connected to Israeli spyware “Pegasus”.
The Wire report links the fall of the JDS-Congress government in July 2019 and the BJP’s takeover to alleged snooping, though there is no evidence to establish whether phones were hacked.
The Congress alleges Pegasus was used to execute ‘Operation Lotus’ to topple the state government.
“I was surprised to know that Pegasus has compromised my phone when I was deputy chief minister, and that of Siddaramaiah and chief minister’s secretary. Snooping activity by Pegasus is highly condemnable… Without the permission of the government of India, either the ministry of Home or the PM’s office they cannot do it. I am sure the government is involved. I condemn this… They have misused their power to topple governments in this country,” G Parameshwara, who was the deputy Chief Minister then, said.
Key numbers were allegedly selected when the HD Kumaraswamy-led government was battling a huge crisis following a rebellion by MLAs.
The phone numbers of Mr Parameshwara and the personal secretaries of Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy and former chief minister Siddaramaiah were allegedly selected as potential targets.
The Wire says these numbers showed up in its review of the list of numbers “of interest” to an Indian client of Israel’s NSO group, which sells its Pegasus spyware only to governments.
The numbers form part of a leaked database accessed by the French media non-profit Forbidden Stories and shared with an international media consortium as part of what is called the Pegasus Project.
It is not, however, established whether the phones were infected or hacked.
The Wire says the period coincides with the selection of a new number Congress leader Rahul Gandhi began to use after discarding his earlier one.
The JDS-Congress government fell after the abrupt resignation of 17 MLAs, who later joined the BJP and helped BS Yediyurappa return to power.
In the nerve-wracking power tussle leading up to the transition, rebel MLAs were sequestered at a hotel in Mumbai for days and Congress leader DK Shivakumar tried and failed to meet them. The MLAs were finally disqualified after they turned in their resignation.
After Mr Yediyurappa took power, the MLAs joined the BJP and contested bypolls. Many of them became ministers in the BJP government.
The Wire said two phone numbers belonged to Satish, the personal secretary of Mr Kumaraswamy. The phone number of former Congress Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s personal secretary Venkatesh was also added at the time.
The JDS and Congress had accused the BJP of engineering defections and bringing about the fall of the government with active help from the Centre.
Over the past few days, The Wire, Washington Post and other media partners in the “Pegasus project” have revealed that the numbers of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, poll strategist Prashant Kishor, two union ministers, Trinamool Congress leader Abhishek Banerjee and some 40 journalists were selected as potential targets of snooping.