According to the new report by the wire, The phone numbers of deputy Chief Minister G Parameshwara and the personal secretaries of Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy and former chief minister Siddaramaiah were allegedly selected as potential targets.
The Wire report links the fall of the JDS-Congress government in July 2019 and the BJP’s takeover to alleged snooping.
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. NSO sells its Pegasus spyware – whose use involves the crime of hacking into a smartphone under Indian law – only to governments. Neither NSO nor the Modi government has denied that India is a customer.
The records indicate that the phone numbers of some of the key political players in Karnataka appear to have been selected around the time when an intense power struggle was taking place between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Janata Dal (Secular)-Congress-led state government in 2019, after 17 ruling alliance’s legislators abruptly resigned to force a trust vote in the assembly.
This period also coincides with the selection of a new number Rahul Gandhi began to use after discarding an earlier one he had been operation, and which had been on the list of potential spyware targets since 2018.
In the absence of digital forensics, it is not possible to conclusively establish these Karnataka politics-related phones were infected or subjected to an attempted hack. However, the timing surrounding their selections as possible candidates for surveillance is crucial as during the political power game that played out, the Congress and the JD(S) alleged that the BJP, actively backed by the Union government, was attempting to topple their coalition government by poaching their party legislators.
Although the BJP had denied these allegations, all rebels MLAs, who were subsequently disqualified by the Speaker, later joined the saffron party and were nominated as BJP candidates in the by-polls after the fall of the Kumaraswamy-led government.
The alleged horse-trading of legislators was quickly dubbed in the mainstream press as ‘Operation Lotus’ – a term first coined by opposition parties to hint at the ruling BJP’s allegedly frequent attempts to topple democratically-elected governments (BJP uses the lotus as its election symbol).
In its review of the leaked data, The Wire found that two phone numbers belonging to Satish, the personal secretary of then chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy, were selected for potential targeting in mid-2019, at a time in which the Congress-JD(S) government was struggling to win back the rebels.
Congress leader Siddaramaiah after the revelation has tweeted and expressed his displeasure over the news.
— Siddaramaiah (@siddaramaiah) July 19, 2021
The phone number of former Congress chief minister Siddaramaiah’s personal secretary Venkatesh was also added in the same period.
Sources close to Siddaramaiah said that the former Congress chief minister hasn’t been using a personal phone for many years, and relies on his aides for phone conversations. Therefore, the selection of Venkatesh’s phone number as a potential target for surveillance in this period assumes immense significance.