Smuggling Case Allegedly Used To Illegally Tap Phones in K’taka

Nirmalanandanatha is the chief pontiff of the Adichunchanagiri Mutt, the spiritual headquarters for the Vokkaligas.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
During the last week of September, reports claimed that the police had tapped the phone of Swamy Nirmalanandanatha, the chief pontiff of the Adichunchanagiri Mutt in Mandya district
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The recent phone-tapping scandal that is being probed by the CBI has reportedly revealed that the Bengaluru police had allegedly tapped the phones of several prominent figures, including a prominent seer, under the guise of a multi-crore red sanders smuggling case among others.

According to a report in The Indian Express, the cover of this case as well as others was used to apparently illegally spy on 30 public figures for a year lasting up to August 2019.

The probe into the alleged phone tapping in Karnataka has kicked-off a political standoff between two major political parties. At the heart of the controversy is the state’s second largest community and vote bank – the Vokkaligas – whom both parties are trying to woo ahead of a crucial by-election in December this year.

During the last week of September, reports claimed that the police had tapped the phone of Swamy Nirmalanandanatha, the chief pontiff of the Adichunchanagiri Mutt in Mandya district. This mutt is the spiritual headquarters for the Vokkaliga community, which forms 12-14% of the state’s vote bank.

Since this tapping took place during the tenure of the Janata Dal (Secular)-Congress government, led by HD Kumaraswamy, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has accused the JD(S) leader of snooping on the Vokkaliga pontiff.

This is now a matter of the concern for the JD(S) since Vokkaliga community forms their largest vote bank. For the BJP, which is trying to make inroads into the Vokkaliga community, the controversy presents an opportunity.

What is the Phone Tapping Controversy?

Former Bengaluru Police Commissioner Alok Kumar with former Deputy CM Dr G Parameshwara soon after taking charge
Former Bengaluru Police Commissioner Alok Kumar with former Deputy CM Dr G Parameshwara soon after taking charge
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

The CBI is currently probing into the alleged illegal tapping of phones of politicians, their aides, bureaucrats and other officials during the tenure of former Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy.

These phone tapping allegations had come to light when three audio tapes of conversations between Bengaluru Police Commissioner Bhaskar Rao and someone called Faraz were released to the media. It is alleged that these conversations were released by ADGP Alok Kumar, who was replaced by Rao as the police commissioner.

But this opened a pandora’s box. A preliminary investigation by the Central Crime Branch (CCB) found that more than 185 persons, including senior MLAs, aides of politicians and top bureaucrats were under surveillance.

On 30 August this case was handed over to the CBI.

Politics Over the Pontiff

Vokkaliga seer Nirmalananda Swamy.
Vokkaliga seer Nirmalananda Swamy.
(Photo: Wikipedia/ Altered by The Quint) 

Deputy Chief Minister C N Ashwath Narayan and Revenue Minister R Ashoka, who hail from Vokkaliga community, had sought to corner the former chief minister Kumaraswamy and his administration by raking up the alleged phone-tapping.

The BJP has levelled allegations that this tapping was done on the behest of Kumaraswamy. They argued that Alok Kumar was the Bengaluru police commissioner, even though he was the junior most ADGP in the state, on Kumaraswamy’s decision.

Ashoka had gone a step further and apologised to the seer, whose phone was tapped, on behalf of the system, and said, "it is a mistake, no government should do it. Whoever did it, must face punishment, our government will take all necessary action," he told the PTI.

Former CM Kumaraswamy tweeted in response: "Nirmalananda seer was my strength. He always guided me. He used to pray for me. How can I do anything to him in a suspecting manner? Never! My name is being dragged into this unnecessarily. Ashoka has gone ahead of everyone and has sought an apology for a mistake that has not happened. I don't know what he gained from this. I feel pity for his hurried move.”

What Are the Political Implications?

In the 2019 general elections, the BJP had won 25 out of the 28 seats in the state, including seats in the old Mysore region, which is a Vokkaliga stronghold. The post-poll analysis had pointed out that Vokkaligas, upset over traditional rivals JD(S) and Congress joining hands, had voted in BJP’s favour.

One of the primary reasons behind BJP appointing Ashwath Narayan, a Vokkaliga, as the deputy chief minister was to ensure maintaining relevance in the vote bank. However, this did not look good for the BJP. On 11 September, more than 35,000 Vokkaligas marched against BJP in the state’s capital.

They were upset over the arrest of Vokkaliga leader DK Shivakumar and the death of Café Coffee Day owner VG Siddhartha, another Vokkaliga. They claimed these results of the vendetta politics were played by the BJP using the Income Tax department.

The phone tapping provides the BJP another chance to win over the community, especially before the by-elections on 4 December.

(With inputs from Indian Express)

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