New Delhi: The numbers of former Karnataka chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy’s secretary, former deputy chief minister G. Parameshwara and the secretary of another former CM, the Congress’ Siddaramaiah, figure in the third tranche of potential names of public figures and politicians whose numbers were allegedly targetted using the Pegasus spyware.
According to the expose by a global media consortium, including India’s The Wire, the numbers of Satish, the personal secretary of the then chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy and the phone number of former Congress chief minister Siddaramaiah’s personal secretary Venkatesh figure on the list. The phone number of a policeman, Manjunath Muddegowda, one of the security personnel of former Prime Minister and JD(S) president H.D. Devegowda, also appears in the leaked records.
According to The Wire report released Tuesday, it is difficult to ascertain whether these phones were infected or subjected to an attempt in the absence of digital forensics.
The numbers were allegedly targetted in 2019, at a time the state was witnessing political turmoil. The BJP eventually went on to topple the Congress-JD(S) government in the state, after 17 ruling alliance legislators quit to force a trust vote.
The BJP, despite emerging as the single largest party in 2018, had been kept out of power by the Congress-JD(S) alliance.
The third list follows one on Monday when two mobile phone numbers that were being used by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi figured among 300 verified Indian numbers that were listed as potential targets of Israeli surveillance technology vendor NSO Group.
Apart from Gandhi, the numbers of the newly-appointed Union IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, political strategist Prashant Kishor and West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee’s MP nephew Abhishek Banerjee were also on the list.
The leak broke Sunday when the expose by a global consortium of media organisations revealed that the Pegasus spyware was used to allegedly bug 300 mobile phone numbers in India. These included numbers of two serving Union ministers, three Opposition leaders, one constitutional authority, current and former heads of security organisations, administrators, and 40 senior journalists and activists.
The government has stridently defended the charges.
Union IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, who himself was on the list, Monday said the report had no factual basis and appeared to be an attempt to “malign Indian democracy and its well-established institutions”.
Apart from the government, the BJP too put up a strong defence and condemned what it termed as baseless allegations bereft of political propriety comments levelled by Congress against the BJP.
Soon after the list became public, former IT minister and senior BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad addressed a press conference and said: “This is a new low in the political discourse of a party that has ruled India for over 50 years”.
Home Minister Amit Shah said the report about the alleged snooping has been amplified by a few whose only aim is to do whatever is possible to humiliate India on the world stage.
“This is a report by the disrupters for the obstructers. Disrupters are global organisations that do not like India to progress,” he said. “Obstructers are political players in India who do not want India to progress. People of India are very good at understanding this chronology and connection.”
Student activists, world leaders on list too
Several Indian activists and student leaders, and at least 14 world leaders also figure in the leaked database.
Former JNU students Umar Khalid, Anirban Bhattacharya and Banjyotsana Lahiri, Ambedkarite activist Ashok Bharti, academic Bela Bhatia, railway union leader Shiv Gopal Mishra, labour rights activist Anjani Kumar, anti-coal mining activist Alok Shukla, Delhi University professor Saroj Giri, Bastar-based activist Shubhranshu Choudhary and another activist, Ipsa Shatakshi, are named in the database.
At least 14 heads of states and governments including French President Emmanuel Macron, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa are also on the list.
Parliament proceedings hit
The Pegasus leaks have led to Parliament proceedings in the ongoing monsoon session witnessing stormy protests.
While proceedings of the Rajya Sabha were disrupted several times, Lok Sabha has been adjourned until Thursday.
At the same time, Prime Minister Narendra hit out at the opposition Tuesday, saying that it is “spreading lies” and “politicising” the Covid-19 pandemic. Modi asked his party members to counter the ‘lies’ being spread by the opposition about Covid-19 and the government’s policies.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)