Supreme Court staffer who accused CJI Gogoi of sexual harassment is also on the list
NEW DELHI – The phone numbers of Ashwini Vaishnaw, newly-inducted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as his Communications, Electronics and Information Technology, and Railways Minister and Minister of State for Jal Shakti Prahlad Singh Patel were among the 300 verified Indian numbers listed as potential targets for surveillance during 2017-2019.
Patel, the MP from Madhya Pradesh’s Damoh, was recently shifted to the Jal Shakti ministry under Cabinet Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat from the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, where he held independent charge, The Wire said.
Vaishnaw, the IT minister, was on Sunday informed of his presence in the leaked database but has yet to respond with a comment or reaction. Earlier in the day, it was Vaishnaw who rubbished the reports of espionage. Replying on behalf of the government to questions raised by the opposition in the Lok Sabha, he termed The Wire’s report as an attempt to malign Indian democracy.
Meanwhile, in the midst of the heated Assembly elections in West Bengal earlier this year, the phone of poll strategist Prashant Kishor was broken into using NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware, according to digital forensics conducted by Amnesty International’s Security Lab and shared with The Wire.
In addition, the mobile number of key strategist Abhishek Banerjee, the powerful Trinamool Congress MLA who is also the nephew of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, was also selected as a potential target for surveillance by NSO Group.
Also on the list is Banerjee’s personal secretary.
Their phones, along with that of a close aide to Kishor, were not immediately available for forensic investigation, making it impossible to say definitively whether an attempt to hack them was made.
Since NSO insists that only “vetted governments” can purchase Pegasus, the targetting of Kishor — who was working as an advisor to Mamata Banerjee — is the first iron-clad piece of evidence that this deadly spyware is being used in India by an as yet unidentified agency to gather political information from rivals of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, The Wire said.
Also on the list is the personal secretary to BJP leader Vasundhara Raje, when she was Chief Minister in Rajasthan, and Sanjay Kachroo, who worked as an officer on special duty (OSD) for Smriti Irani in her first years as a Union minister in the Modi government from 2014-2015.
Other junior politicians linked to the Bharatiya Janata Party, and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s leader, Pravin Togadia, a long-time opponent of Modi from his days as Chief Minister of Gujarat, are other individuals whose numbers figure in the database.
Three phone numbers belonging to the Supreme Court staffer, who had accused former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi of sexual harassment in April 2019, were selected as potential targets for surveillance, The Wire reported.
The staffer, whose name is being withheld, was dismissed from service in December 2018, weeks after she said she rebuffed the judge’s advances. She recorded her allegations in a sworn affidavit on April 20, 2019 and was marked as a person of interest just days after this, an analysis of a leaked list of phone numbers accessed by French media non-profit Forbidden Stories revealed.
The leaked records show that eight other phone numbers belonging to her husband and two of his brothers were also marked as possible candidates for surveillance in the same week, when her allegations against the CJI were first reported, The Wire said.
– With input from IANS