Karnataka Congress leaders demand Supreme Court-led judicial enquiry into Operation Lotus.
(Image: Shruti Mathur/The Quint)
In a media conference held by the All India Congress Committee, senior leaders of Indian National Congress including Karnataka Congress leaders Siddaramaiah, DK Shivakumar and Mallikarjun Kharge, accused the Narendra Modi government of toppling, in 2019, the democratically elected government of Karnataka using Pegasus, the Israeli spyware.
Speaking at the meet, Siddaramaiah who was former Chief Minister of Karnataka said, "Pegasus was used to tap the phones of Venkatesh, who has been my PA for the past 27 years. It was used to tap the phone of Satheesh, PA of HD Kumaraswamy (former CM) and the phone of Manjunath, the watchman of Deve Gowda (former CM and Prime Minister of India)".
As part of a global investigation named the Pegasus Project, The Wire on Tuesday, 20 July, published a report detailing Pegasus link to what was called 'Operation Lotus' – a horse trading ploy allegedly used by the BJP to get the support of opposition MLAs in Karnataka in 2019.
Congress-JD(S) government fell in 2019, to make way for BS Yediyurappa-led BJP government to come to power.
Currently the BJP government is in power in the state.
Explaining the circumstances, Siddaramaiah said that in 2018 Karnataka Legislative Assembly elections gave a fractured mandate with Bharatiya Janata Party winning 104 seats, Congress 80 and Janata Dal (Secular) 36 seats.
At first, BJP led by BS Yediyurappa could not prove majority in the House and JD(S) supported by the Congress formed the government. The Congress-JD(S) government governed for one year and two months.
"We decided to support the JD(S) because we did not want the BJP, a communal party, to come to power. But Yediyurappa started horse trading," alleged Siddaramaiah.
Seventeen MLAs from Congress and JD(S) rebelled.
The MLAs did not leave freely and fairly to join the BJP, but were lured using information (gathered from the snooping), he alleged.
"I don't have a mobile. So they tapped by PA's phone. This dirty game has to stop," Siddaramaiah said.
Senior Karnataka Congress leader DK Shivakumar accused, "We had complained that our phones are being tapped. And Yediyurappa ordered a CBI probe into the allegation. That investigation is still going on".
Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge said, "(PM) Modi and (Home Minister) Amit Shah have tried to topple democratic institutions. This is an authoritarian dictatorship. They should take up moral responsibility and resign".
Congress leader KC Venugopal said, "It is substantiated (with the publication of the report) that their main objective was to topple the elected government in Karnataka. Who is safe in this country? There should be a judicial enquiry monitored by the Supreme Court into these findings".
Meanwhile, Janata Dal (Secular) leader and former chief minister HD Kumaraswamy, however, dismissed the expose saying, “I am not bothered about all these things”. He said that it is common knowledge that governments and departments tap “important phones”.
“I am not bothered about the tapping of my Personal Assistant’s phone when I was the chief minister because I had not done any wrong activities regarding the security of this country or the state,” he told media persons in Bengaluru.
HD Kumaraswamy further dismissed the snooping charges saying, political leaders and the media should concentrate on providing COVID relief for people in the country instead of chasing the Pegasus snoop.
Recently, the JD(S) has been warming up to the BJP and had even supported the cattle slaughter bill introduced by the BJP government.
The Congress, however, said that Pegasus could have been used to spy on the party's leaders in other states. It could have led to "toppling of governments" in states including Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Goa, Congress leaders said.
Commenting on reports that phone numbers belonging to the personal secretary, Sateesh, had been selected for potential targeting by Pegasus, the then Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy asked, “Even if I ask for an independent enquiry, who will head it? Who will submit the report? Will they really submit a fair report? These questions arise and make me feel that it will just be a waste of the taxpayers' money.”
In an interview to The News Minute, Kumaraswamy said the role of the Narendra Modi-led Union government is evident. “When the MLAs were taken to BJP-ruled-Maharashtra, it became clear that it was at the behest of the Union government. It has become common to misuse power. Using this system (Pegasus), they leveraged the misunderstandings that existed in the coalition government,” he said.
He also accused the Congress of misusing power to spy on people. “It is not true that this (spying) has started now. State and Union governments have intelligence departments. They have a system to track what happens across the country. Even Congress did the same thing when they were in power,” he said.
(With inputs from The News Minute)