New Delhi: The Congress party turned up the political heat on the Modi government, accusing it of using the Pegasus spyware to topple its Karnataka government in 2019. Top Congress leaders including former CM Siddaramaiah addressed a press conference Tuesday evening, saying the Pegasus Project — which claims a list of politicians and journalists were targeted — reveals how the BJP government was formed in 2019, dismantling the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) alliance government.
The phone number of former deputy CM, G. Parameshwara as well as Siddaramaiah’s personal secretary, Venkatesh, featured in the latest list of those who were allegedly targeted using the spyware, in the run-up to the ouster of the Congress government in the state in 2019.
On Sunday, an expose by a global consortium of media organisations revealed that the Israeli company NSO Group’s spyware was used to allegedly bug 300 mobile phone numbers in India, including that of prominent public figures such as Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, Trinamool Congress’s Abhishek Banerjee, political strategist Prashant Kishor and 40 senior journalists, and activists.
“A total of 17 Congress-JDS MLAs resigned in July 2019 and many of them went ahead and joined the BJP … I don’t carry a phone, so they tapped my secretary’s phone, who has been with me for 27 years,” Siddaramaiah said.
“It is the Government of India headed by Narendra Modi that played this dirty game (of spying) to topple the Karnataka government,” he added.
The former CM further said he had not known of the existence of ‘Operation Kamal’ but “now it is clear what it meant”. The Congress-JD(S) government had come to power in 2018, but was toppled by the BJP after 13 months as 17 of its MLAs quit the alliance government. The alleged poaching of opposition MLAs was dubbed ‘Operation Kamal’ or ‘Operation Lotus’.
Mixed responses by former CMs
According to the report, the phone number of former Karnataka chief minister and JD(S) leader H.D. Kumaraswamy’s secretary is also on the list of those attacked by the spyware. But while Congress lashed out against the government over this issue, Kumaraswamy didn’t react as sharply.
“I am not surprised by today’s revelations on phone tapping. The same issue had risen when my government collapsed. This issue existed during the tenure of several governments even several years back. This is not a new issue to me,” he was quoted as saying by news agency ANI.
I am not surprised by today's revelations on phone tapping. The same issue had risen when my govt collapsed. This issue existed during the tenure of several govts even several years back. This is not a new issue to me: Former Karnataka CM HD Kumaraswamy on Pegasus report pic.twitter.com/GM5vfG6ooX
— ANI (@ANI) July 20, 2021
Kumaraswamy went on to request other political parties to focus on issues like the possible third Covid-19 wave and “not waste time” on the phone-tapping controversy.
“The big issue is the disastrous position we are seeing due to the second Covid wave. I request parties and political leaders to concentrate on how the Centre failed to solve our problems. Why waste time unnecessarily by taking up the phone tapping issue?” he said.
‘Must investigate if this was tried in MP, Goa too’
Mallikarjun Kharge, the former Leader of the Opposition in Karnataka and currently the Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, was also present at the press conference. He said that the latest report should lead to an investigation on whether this kind of spying was attempted on leaders of the Congress in other states where its governments were toppled — including Madhya Pradesh and Goa.
“I think they would have employed this kind of spying in states like Madhya Pradesh, Goa, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh, to find out about the leaders and topple the government,” Kharge said.
K.C. Venugopal, the Congress’ organisational general secretary, said that “there is no privacy for anyone anymore. The government can enter anyone’s kitchen or bedroom or bathroom.”
D.K Shivakumar, the president of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress also addressed the media, demanding a probe into the matter.
“Undoubtedly the Government of India should announce a Supreme Court investigation in this matter. We demand a judicial probe headed by the Supreme court,” he said.
‘No leadership tussle in Karnataka Congress’
Interestingly, both Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah arrived in Delhi Monday evening, for their meeting with Rahul Gandhi scheduled Tuesday afternoon. The two are said to be involved in a leadership tussle with both their supporters projecting them as the party’s next CM face for the 2023 Karnataka state polls.
However, Randeep Singh Surjewala, the party’s chief spokesperson, when asked to comment on the matter, said: “They are all on this table” — referring to Kharge, Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar.
“The Congress is united and there is no issue of leadership tussle in Karnataka,” he added.
(Edited by Paramita Ghosh)