New Delhi: Congress on Tuesday, July 20, called for the resignation of Union home minister Amit Shah and the inclusion of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a judicial inquiry, in the aftermath of The Wire‘s report on the selection of phone numbers of key leaders as potential targets for surveillance in the days leading up to the toppling of the Congress-JD(S) alliance government in Karnataka in 2019.
The numbers of then deputy chief minister G. Parameshwara and the personal secretaries of then chief minister and Janata Dal (Secular) leader H.D. Kumaraswamy and former chief minister and Congress leader Siddaramaiah featured in the list that was of interest to an Indian client of Israel’s NSO group, Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta had reported earlier on Monday.
The report is part of the Pegasus Project involving investigations by 16 news organisations worldwide, including The Wire.
The report notes that NSO sells its Pegasus spyware – whose use involves the crime of hacking into a smartphone under Indian law – only to governments. Neither NSO nor the Modi government has denied that India is a customer.
The Congress on Monday placed the blame directly on the Modi government, saying it had used the Pegasus spyware to snoop on and dismantle the alliance government in Karnataka.
“This is murder of democracy. A thorough investigation must be ordered at the earliest,” the party tweeted.
Congress spokespersons Mallikarjun Kharge, Adhir Chowdhury, K.C. Venugopal, Randeep Singh Surjewala, Siddaramaiah and D.K. Shivakumar held that the news on Karnataka was even bigger than that of reports on Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and Trinamool Congress’s Abhishek Banerjee and their respective aides’ numbers having been selected for possible surveillance.
This was broken by The Wire a day ago, on Monday.
“Yesterday we had thought that efforts were on to tarnish the image of certain people, but today we realise that the situation is graver. We know now who attempted to bring down the Karnataka government and why…Modi and Shah are entirely ready to end democracy, the very system that brought them to power. They want to bring an authoritative dictatorship,” said Kharge.
Kharge said that BJP must have used spyware to bring down the opposition governments in Madhya Pradesh, Goa, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh.
Kharge also said that the Prime Minister should be brought within the purview of an impartial judicial inquiry, following the example of France.
“There is a simple question before the country now…who is safe?” asked K.C. Venugopal.
He also highlighted that the Union IT minister Ashwini Vaishnav had given a statement in the parliament on Monday, which ran contradictory to the same ministry’s stance in 2019.
At the press conference, Adhir Chowdhury added how the Union government allegedly assisted the rebel leaders of the alliance to quit at a crucial time by tapping the phone of Siddaramaiah’s aide, considering that the former Congress leader did not use a phone.
Former IT minister and senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal on Tuesday separately demanded a Supreme Court-monitored probe in the Pegasus snooping matter and a white paper by the government in parliament explicitly stating whether the Israeli spyware was used by it or not.
Not a new issue: Kumaraswamy
JD(S) leader Kumaraswamy was first quoted by news agency ANI as striking a far milder tone than Congress.
“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,” the former chief minister was quoted as having said.
In the second tweet released by ANI, Kumaraswamy appeared to attempt to shift focus on to COVID-19, saying bringing up phone tapping was a waste of time.
“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 Centre failed to solve our problems. Why waste time unnecessarily by taking up phone tapping issue?” he asked.
To Times Now, Kumaraswamy said, he was not worried because he had “not done any wrong activities regarding the security of either the country or the state, as is audible in the following tweet.
Responding to @thewire_in report on possible surveillance by #Pegasus ahead of the toppling of the JD(S)-Congress government in Karnataka in 2019 @hd_kumaraswamy said, “This is not a new thing, I am not bothered about tapping of my PA’s phone….(1/2) @IndianExpress pic.twitter.com/teD8Zwcqu6
— Darshan Devaiah B P (@DarshanDevaiahB) July 20, 2021
It is noteworthy that after the toppling of their alliance, Congress and the JD(S) returned to being usual rivals.
However, speaking to the news channel NDTV later in the evening, Kumaraswamy alleged that the BJP was responsible for the possible phone tapping.
On Monday, four opposition parties – the Congress Trinamool Congress, Aam Aadmi Party and Communist Party of India (Marxist) – gave notices under Rule 267 in Rajya Sabha, demanding that scheduled business be suspended to discuss the Pegasus allegations.
Read The Wire’s coverage as part of the Pegasus Project here.