BJP Bengaluru South MP Tejasvi Surya on Thursday (May 5) revisited the Bengaluru South COVID War Room at around 7 pm, and apologised to the 200-odd people working there. Tejasvi had on Tuesday ‘raided’ the war room and read out the names of 16 Muslim men who worked there, accusing them of being a part of a COVID bed blocking scam. Following this, scores of the 212 people who work in this war room have faced harassment, including sexual harassment, after their names and numbers were leaked on social media platforms.
“About the numbers that were leaked? I’m saying from our side, I’m really sorry. This was not our intention. We didn’t know that they would get leaked. That’s not in our hands,” Tejasvi Surya said. Claiming that he simply read out the names from a list he was given, Tejasvi said, “Since the ruckus from the other day when we came here, there’s a projection outside that this is some kind of conspiracy against Muslims. Let it be in your attention — I was given a list, and told these are the people who work here who were removed for such-and-such reasons. I just read out the list. That list just had these names. I read them out and asked why these people — how these people were hired — all this happened in front of you. There are many things here I don’t want to get into all that with you.”
Further, the MP implied that people at the war room were prioritising some communities over others. “When a person calls you… COVID/corona doesn’t come to someone seeing whether they’re Hindu, Muslim, Tamil or Kannada… It affects everyone. So none of us in our teams should have that sort of feeling, and let’s work with a view to help everyone. I’ve got many complaints from here before also. That people are discriminated against. I want to inform you that you should not let all this happen.”
However, Tejasvi neither did not tell the war room members where he got such a list from, nor how he verified its credentials before reading it out. In earlier interviews, Tejasvi had told the media that BBMP Joint Commissioner gave him the list. He also did not have to apologise to the 16 men whom he named on Tuesday; the 16 workers — most of them in their 20s and many of them college students according to sources — have been asked not to come to the war room until the police gives them a clean chit, according to Crystal Infosystems, the contractor who staffs this particular war room.
The people working in the war room have been facing constant harassment from strangers over the phone — with some even getting visits to their home address — with people demanding hospital beds, and asking how much money they are taking for giving hospital beds. Several workers have had to disable their phone numbers because of the constant phone calls, according to sources. Addressing this, Tejasvi Surya said, “Just like your numbers were leaked, the numbers of every staffer in our office has also been put out in the form of posters. The posters say if you want to get a bed from BBMP, call this number directly and they’ll immediately give you. Since yesterday, my office people’s numbers have been ringing constantly. We get 1500 calls a day. I know what you are going through. I’m also in the same position. See, my phone also doesn’t stop ringing. We can’t do anything about it. This has happened, but this was not our intention. Whoever has leaked it, we can try to fix them. And because your numbers have been unfortunately leaked, we can get you a new SIM. That’s all we can do. If you have any other suggestions, please tell us, we will do that also.”
“I’ll tell you something personal. My father and mother are in Chikkamagaluru in an estate, in a house with just the two of them. My parents’ numbers have been leaked and put out everywhere. My mother called me at 11.30 in the night to cry to me. Some random people are calling, we’re living alone here, we’re old, she said. My father is 70 years old. Where do we go, my mother asked.” Tejasvi said.
During his last visit to the war room, flanked by three other BJP leaders, Tejasvi had done a live telecast of it. This time, there was no live telecast and those at the war room were told not to shoot videos.
TNM spoke to three people in the war room, and all of them said that what happened to their colleagues was unfortunate and unnecessary. “We work here together, Muslims and Hindus. These are all young boys he has named, how can they be called terrorists? Do you think these boys even know how guns work? This apology was namesake, and they should not have been named by him like that."
“I am sorry, it was a mistake on my part. I was given a list and I read it. I know the war room was affected by it,” Tejasvi Surya said, according to sources who were present in the room during the MP’s visit.
“Even my number was leaked and I, too, am facing threats. Don’t worry, this will all be over in a week. I am with you. I will teach a lesson to those who leaked your numbers.” He denied that the leak was from his office, promising to get the workers new SIM cards.
“I didn’t see whether the list was Hindu or Muslim.”
“I’m not casteist or communal.”
NOTE: TNM accessed a recording of Tejasvi Surya’s interaction at the war room after the publication of the first story which was based on quotes from people who work in the war room.. The story was edited at 3.45 pm on Friday, May 7, to put in the exact words spoken by the MP. One quote that TNM inadvertently added on the basis of sources, that said Tejasvi Surya insisted he wasn’t casteist or communal, is being removed because it wasn’t found in the audio clip accessed by us. The version prior to the edits is archived here.