On January 16, Deshmukh had said the state government will seek a probe into claims made by senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh that officials of the Maharashtra government were involved in snooping and tapping of phones in the state. (Photo: Ganesh Shirsekar/File)
A political controversy broke out over allegations of snooping after Home Minister Anil Deshmukh on Friday said that the previous BJP government had tapped the phones of senior NCP and Congress leaders during the 2019 Lok Sabha and Assembly polls and that a probe has been initiated into the matter. Former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, however, denied the charges, maintaining that phone-tapping was not the culture of the state.
Addressing mediapersons at Bhandara Friday, Deshmukh said: “The previous BJP government had tried to snoop on telephone conversations of senior Congress and NCP leaders before the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections. There are allegations that the BJP government had sent some government officials to Israel at government cost and had secured a software that was used to hear the conversations of senior leaders and to derive political benefit from it.”
“Our government has started a probe into the matter,” he added.
On January 16, Deshmukh had said the state government will seek a probe into claims made by senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh that officials of the Maharashtra government were involved in snooping and tapping of phones in the state and that an official had gone to Israel to hold talks with officials of Israeli firm NSO. The NSO creates spyware like Pegasus, known to have been used to target journalists and activists across the globe. Deshmukh had reiterated the claims on Thursday.
Fadnavis, however, in a statement, said: “I had never issued any order for tapping anybody’s phone. We don’t indulge in such acts.”
“Phone-tapping is not the culture of Maharashtra. My government had not given any such orders... The whole country knows the credibility of those who have levelled such allegations,” the Leader of Opposition in the state Assembly said, adding that a Shiv Sena minister was the minister of state for home during his regime. He was referring to Sena MLA Deepak Kesarkar.
“I would request the government to immediately investigate the entire matter. It should submit the findings and a detail reported in the public domain... I also would urge the government to probe allegations about Israel to get the facts right,” he said.
“As the CM and Home minister of Maharashtra, I have never done anything that was unethical or violated rules... However, if someone is making baseless charges... they would get exposed. The people of Maharashtra will soon know the facts,” the BJP leader said.
When contacted, Kesarkar claimed that snooping had taken place during the previous Congress regime as well. “A minister of state has limited powers and I can’t comment on this. However, if this has happened, it should be investigated. There have been allegations that the Congress regime used to snoop on Matoshree,” he said.
Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut, too, on Friday said that a BJP leader had informed him that his phone was tapped by the previous Devendra Fadnavis government. “A BJP leader had told me that my phone was being tapped. I said if anybody wants to listen to what I am saying, I welcome it. I am Balasaheb’s chela (disciple), whatever I do, I do it openly... In spite of the phone-tapping, we formed the government in Maharashtra,” he told mediapersons.
Earlier, Housing Minister Jitendra Awhad, a NCP leader, said the phone tapping episode smacks of “sick mentality” of the BJP. “Why do you want to poke into people’s private lives? There may be political and ideological differences between us, but not personal. Maharashtra ought to know who is behind this,” he added.