The names of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, election strategist Prashant Kishor, IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw and many others were among the 300 verified Indian numbers listed as potential targets for surveillance during 2017-2019 by a client of the Israel-based NSO group, reported The Wire.
According to the report, along with Rahul Gandhi, the phone numbers of five of his social friends and acquaintances were also a part of the list of potential targets. Interestingly, none of the five have any role in politics or public affairs, the report added. Howeve, the report said that Gandhi's phone has not been examined as he no longer has the handsets he used at the time. Hence, without the use of forensics, it is not possible to conclusively tell if Pegasus was deployed against the Wayanad MP, the Wire reported.
The phone numbers of election strategist Prashant Kishor and Mamata Banerjee's nephew Abhishek Banerjee was also selected as a potential target for surveillance, the Wire's second set of explosive revelations said. However, their phones were not immediately available for forensic investigation, and hence, it impossible to say definitively whether an attempt to hack them was made, the report added. Interestingly, Kishor played a key role in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)'s 2014 campaign that saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi come to power for the first time with a historic mandate. However, later Kishor parted ways with the saffron party and more recently was credited for the victories of Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal and MK Stalin in Tamil Nadu.
The phone numbers of the newly-inducted IT and Railways minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, minister of state for Jal Shakti Prahlad Singh Patel, personal secretary to Vasundhara Raje Scindia, officer on special duty (OSD) for Smriti Irani, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Pravin Togadia, etc. were also among the 300 verified Indian numbers on the list, the report said.
Besides, three phone numbers belonging to the Supreme Court staffer who accused former Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi of sexual harassment in April 2019 also found place in list of potential snoop targets, the report added.
Meanwhile, Vaishnaw has dismissed media reports on the use of Pegasus software to snoop on Indians, saying the allegations levelled just ahead of the Monsoon session of Parliament are aimed at maligning Indian democracy. In a suo motu statement in Lok Sabha, Vaishnaw said that with several checks and balances being in place, "any sort of illegal surveillance" by unauthorised persons is not possible in India.
"A highly sensational story was published by a web portal yesterday night.... The press report appeared a day before the Monsoon session of the Parliament. This cannot be a coincidence. In the past similar claims were made regarding the use of Pegasus on WhatsApp. Those reports have no factual basis and were categorically denied by all parties.... The press report of July 18, 2021 also appeared to be an attempt to malign the Indian democracy and a well-established institution," the minister said.
More than 300 verified mobile phone numbers, including those of two serving ministers, over 40 journalists, three opposition leaders and scores of business persons and activists in India have been targetted for hacking through an Israeli spyware sold only to government agencies, an international media consortium reported on Sunday.
The government, within minutes of the report being published, dismissed the allegations of any kind of surveillance on its part on specific people, saying it "has no concrete basis or truth associated with it whatsoever".