The numbers of former Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy and that of former Deputy CM G Parameshwara were selected for possible surveillance by the Israeli spyware Pegasus ahead of the toppling of the JD(S)-Congress government in Karnataka in 2019, The Wire reported on Tuesday.
According to The Wire, two phone numbers belonging to Satish, the personal secretary of then chief minister HD Kumaraswamy, and one phone number belonging to Venkatesh, the personal secretary of former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, were also selected for potential targeting by Pegasus in 2019. The Wire was informed by close aides of Siddaramaiah that he does not have a personal phone, and so the fact that Siddaramaiahâ€™s aide was possibly targeted is significant. This was the time Karnataka was witnessing a political crisis with MLAs of the Congress and JD(S) shifting sides, many of these MLAs were made to stay in a Mumbai hotel in July 2019 by the BJP.
â€śIf what you are claiming is true, it is wrong and I strongly condemn such an action,â€ť Siddaramaiahâ€™s aide told The Wire, confirming that he was using the phone number that was mentioned on the database.
â€śEven the Income Tax department taps the phones of important people. So I am not very worried about all this. This is not a new thing,â€ť HD Kumaraswamy told the media, reacting to his PAâ€™s number featuring in the list. â€śI have not done any wrong activities or compromised the security of either the state or the country. It is not required for us to take all this seriously. Several governments have misused their office, not just the BJP but even the Congress has done this before. This has been done for at least 15-20 years now,â€ť Kumaraswamy added.
In addition to these, a police personnel who reportedly worked in a security detail of former Prime Minister and JD(S) Chief HD Devegowda also appears in the leaked database of the numbers selected for surveillance by Pegasus. The Wire also reports that the number of G Parameshwara, then Deputy Chief Minister of Karnataka, was also targeted in mid-2019.
Reacting to the newsbreak, Parameshwara told The Wire that he was using that particular phone number in 2019 but had stopped using it for many months after that. He said he had no idea why he was targeted, as he was â€śnot involved in any political managementâ€ť or even heading the Karnataka Congress then.
The 2019 Karnataka political crisis
In 2018, the BJP had emerged as the single largest party after the Assembly elections but fell short of the halfway mark. Yediyurappa even took oath, only to be forced to resign two days later. Then, the JD(S) and Congress made an unlikely alliance and came to power and formed the government under HD Kumaraswamy. Siddaramaiah was the head of the coordination committee which would oversee the functioning of the government. The coalition government saw a rickety start and efforts were made right from day one to poach the allianceâ€™s legislators.
In July 2019, the BJP succeeded. Seventeen Congress and JD(S) leaders resigned as MLAs and were flown to a luxury hotel in Mumbai. They stayed there till the vote of confidence was held, and the Congress-JD(S) government was toppled. In a trust vote that was dragged for several days, the coalition government failed to prove majority and Yediyurappa returned as Chief Minister.
The Pegasus Project and Union govtâ€™s response
This fresh revelation is part of an investigation published by 16 international media outlets â€” one of them being The Wire, which showed that over 300 verified phone numbers in India â€” including those of two serving ministers, over 40 journalists, three opposition leaders and one sitting judge, besides scores of business persons and activists in India â€” could have been targeted for hacking through Pegasus. From the list of more than 50,000 cellphone numbers obtained by the Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International and shared with the 16 news organisations, journalists were able to identify more than 1,000 individuals in 50 countries who were allegedly selected by NSO clients for potential surveillance.
Pegasus, which had also made news in India in 2019, is only sold to government agencies by the Israeli NSO Group.
The Union government in India, while neither denying nor confirming whether it roped in NSO Groupâ€™s services, has dismissed the reports of surveillance, calling the investigation an â€śattempt to malign Indian democracy.â€ť