The Pegasus project, which showed the Indian phone numbers of important personalities being under surveillance, has revealed Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s number being present in the list. The investigation revealed by The Wire mentioned that two mobile phones of Rahul Gandhi were subject to the spyware attack. Along with Rahul Gandhi, Bharatiya Janata Party leader Prahlad Singh Patel and Ashwini Vaishnaw were also present in the list.
However, among the phones examined, Rahul Gandhi’s phones were not checked because he no longer has the handsets. His mobiles were a target in mid-2018 to mid-2019 during the period of general elections. Due to the absence of examination, it is not viable to check if his mobile phones were a subject of the infection.
Poll strategist Prashant Kishor and former election commission employee Ashok Lavasa’s numbers were also present in the list for the potential hack. The second report released by The Wire and other media organizations involved in an international consortium showed that West Bengal Chief Minister’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee was a target of a potential hack.
The number of former Supreme Court staff who had accused Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi of sexual harassment in 2019 was also present in the list, alongside the other eleven phone numbers of her relatives and close aides as a potential target for surveillance.
Speaking to NDTV, Prashant Kishor stated that he had suspected potential snoop and had changed his headset multiple times, but the hack from 2017 to 2021 has sent him a shock despite him changing the headset five times. His phone was as recently snooped as July 14. Kishor played a huge role in the 2014 BJP election and has been working with the opposition parties since, and collaborated with Mamata Banerjee for the recent West Bengal elections.
The government denied the allegation of any association with the NSO Group, the parent of Pegasus, stating there is no concrete evidence to prove the claim.
Ahead of the Monsoon session of the Parliament, where the matter will be a topic of discussion, the government stated that such reports are attempting to malign the Indian Democracy. IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said in the Lok Sabha that illegal surveillance by an unauthorized person is prohibited in India.
Vaishnaw was among the 300 Indian phone numbers mentioned in the list. In 2017, he was a potential target for surveillance, at that time, he was not a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The comments made by Vaishnaw caused fury in the parliament, leading to the opposition party, Congress demanding a probe into the role of the Prime Minister and dismissing Amit Shah from his position of Union Home Minister.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party reiterated that there is no proper evidence to associate the spyware hack to the Modi government. The IT minister, in his statement, said that a sensational story was published before the monsoon session of the Parliament proceedings. Referencing the 2019 Pegasus incident of Whatsapp, he said the reports lack factuality and the press reports released on 18 July are an attempt to malign the democracy of the country.
Jagdeep Chokhar, the founder of the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), and virologist Gagandeep Kang are also mentioned in the list. The officer on special duty (OSD) who worked for Smriti Irani from 2014 to 2015 is on the list. Vasundhara Raje Scindia’s personal secretary was mentioned in the list. Pravin Togadia, Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s leader, is also mentioned in the list.
It is reported that many members present in the list were involved in the elections, including Ashok Lavasa, a member of the Election Commission who ruled that Prime Minister Narendra Modi violated the code of conduct during the campaign for the 2019 general election. Hari Menon, the country head of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, was selected for surveillance at least once in 2019.
The report released by The Wire and International media houses including The Guardian, Le Monde, and The Washington Post is a collaborative effort between Amnesty International and Paris-based organization Forbidden Stories researching the matter with a leaked list of over fifty thousand phone numbers.
The phone numbers were a potential target of an Israeli software called Pegasus, owned by the NSO group. The software allows the operator to tap into the phones of other individuals and have access to their camera, microphone, and other documents.
Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission Chief, commented on the situation on July 19, stating the spyware surveillance surrounding the spyware of around 50,000 phones is unacceptable. In Prague, Von der Leyen was presenting a post-Covid-19 recovery plan for the Czech Republic worth 7 billion euros approved by the European Union, criticizing the attack on journalistic principles, stating that free press is the core value of the EU.