The Pegasus spyware controversy took a new turn on Tuesday (July 20) with reports suggesting that phones belonging to ministers in the erstwhile Janata Dal Secular-Congress government in Karnataka were possibly put under surveillance in 2019. Notably, that was the time when an intense political struggle ensued in Bengaluru and the BJP came back to power with BS Yediyurappa as the chief minister.
A Wire report published on Tuesday claimed that the HD Kumaraswamy-led government fell in 2019 because of alleged phone hacking using the Israeli spyware, but could not produce any evidence to substantiate its claims.
The media report further claimed that selected phone numbers were chosen for snooping, which included the numbers of Deputy CM Parameshwara and the secretaries of Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy and former chief minister Siddaramaiah.
Kumaraswamy had to resign after 17 MLAs belonging to the JDS-Congress combine quit. The same MLAs later joined the BJP and got re-elected to help Yediyurappa become the chief minister. Some of them even became ministers.
The JDS and Congress had then said the defections were ‘managed’ by the BJP and the Union government had assisted the process.
The Wire claims to be in possession of a list of numbers “of interest” that an Indian client showed to Israel-based NSO group, which sells its Pegasus spyware only to governments.
The controversy broke out after French media non-profit ‘Forbidden Stories’ leaked database with an international media consortium (which includes The Wire) as part of what is called the Pegasus Project.
The forensic inspection of a cross-section of phones drawn from this list by Amnesty International’s technical lab has confirmed the presence of Pegasus spyware in as many as 37 instruments, 10 of which are in India.
A day before, The Wire editor Siddharth Varadarajan had claimed that at least two mobile phone accounts used by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi were among 300 verified Indian numbers listed as potential targets by an official Indian client of Israel’s NSO Group.