Prashant Kishor has previously worked as the poll strategist for the BJP, and then the TMC, DMK, AAP and YSRCP, among others.

Prashant Kishorpti
news Privacy Monday, July 19, 2021 - 18:55

Poll strategist Prashant Kishor is the latest name to surface in the list of public figures whose phones were hacked by unidentified agencies using the Israeli spyware, Pegasus. According to reports, Prashant’s phone is still infected with the spyware. There was also an attempt to hack his aide’s phone. Prashant’s name was released in the second report, which also included Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, current Union IT Minister Aswini Vaishnaw, former Election Commissioner of India Ashok Lavasa, virologist Gagandeep Kang, and the woman who accused former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi of sexual harassment.

Prashant Kishor, who founded the political consultancy group I-PAC (Indian Political Action Committee), had helped the Narendra Modi-led BJP government to an absolute victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. Following this, he has worked as the election advisor to opposition parties such as All India Trinamool Congress (TMC), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), which could have made him a target for illegal surveillance. He worked with TMC and DMK in the West Bengal and Tamil Nadu Assembly elections respectively in 2021.

According to The Wire, the digital forensics conducted by Amnesty International’s Security Lab showed that there was an attempt to hack into Prashant’s phone in 2018, months before the May 2019 Lok Sabha election. At the time, there were reports that Prashant might be part of the 2019 poll, and he had said that he will not be working with the BJP. Later, he became the political advisor to current Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSRCP in the 2019 general elections.

The enormity of the hack was not available, and only digital traces of Pegasus for 2018 was forensically visible on Prashant’s current iPhone when he backed up the data from his old phone. However, traces of Pegasus was detected on his current phone in June and July 2021. Incidentally, according to The Wire, his phone was hacked on July 13, the day he met Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi in Delhi ahead of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election. Prashant was the poll strategist for the Congress during the 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly election, although the party faced a rout.

Pegasus, a military-grade spyware, is developed by the Israeli cyberarms firm, NSO Group. The supplier maintains that they sell the software only to "vetted governments". Going by this statement, the spyware could have been made accessible only to the government of India and the agencies under it. However, the Indian government has neither denied nor admitted to allegations in the investigative report by a global media consortium, the Pegasus Project. In fact, Union IT Minister Ashwini, whose own phone was hacked before he became cabinet minister, termed the report as "an attempt to malign the Indian democracy."

Speaking to The Wire, which is one of the media organisations part of the Pegasus Project, Prashant Kishor said that if employing such methods during the West Bengal Assembly elections “are taken as a test case”, then it is evident that such incidents do not have any impact on the electoral outcome. “Those behind this act were looking to take undue advantage of their position of power with the help of illegal snooping,” he told The Wire, whose founding members and contributors were attacked using the spyware.

READ: Explained: The revelations from the Pegasus Project, and who were those hacked

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