Bengaluru: Five days on, the leak of a purported audio clip of Bangalore Police Commissioner Bhaskar Rao allegedly lobbying for the top post has opened up a Pandora’s Box on illegal phone interceptions in Karnataka.
Authenticity of the clip is still being verified, but questions are being raised on exactly how many people’s phones were tapped and how widespread the phone-tapping was.
Politicians, primarily from the BJP, have alleged that they too may have been victims of phone-tapping, with some of them demanding an extensive CBI probe.
Former state home minister R Ashoka, also a sitting BJP MLA, said he had raised the issue six months ago. “I had openly said that the last government (headed by JD-S leader HD Kumaraswamy) was tapping our phones. Now police officers have given authentic documents, so we are asking the CM (BS Yediyurappa) to look into it. More than a 100 people’s phones were tapped. Not just the BJP, but phones of Congress and JD(S) leaders, police officers and even mediapersons were being tapped. I think action should be taken. The CBI should investigate,” he told News18.
Other MLAs like SR Vishwanath and disqualified JD(S) MLA H Vishwanath have petitioned the CM to take action.
“If you can tap the phone of JD(S) state president… what kind of politics is that? Now the police commissioner’s phone is also not spared? All laws have been violated,” said H Vishwanath, who quit as MLA and as state president of the JD(S) to rebel against the coalition government last month.
The episode has sent shockwaves across the police force. The top brass feel that if the conversation is indeed the one between the commissioner and a lobbyist, it must have been leaked by a third person. They suspect it might be an IPS officer too.
This then begets the question - who else was the victim of phone interceptions? Were there other IPS officers, perhaps other aspirants to the commissioner’s post whose calls were intercepted by their own colleagues? For how long were their phones tapped? The answers to these questions can lead to enormous consequences.
The possibility of IPS officers spying on colleagues leaves a bitter taste in the service. Phone tapping itself is a serious issue, done only on written orders in the most sensitive investigations with approvals from the top.
While phone tapping itself is a serious issue, the episode also raises questions on who could possibly tap the phone of a senior ADGP-rank IPS officer – as Bhaskar Rao is. “If such tapping is happening, then you wonder who else is being tapped? How long were these people tapped for? Are we living in a military state?” asked one officer.
Rao ordered an enquiry by the Crime Branch into the alleged tapping the same day the clips were leaked. The three audio clips run into a little over nine minutes.
According to Union Minister DV Sadananda Gowda, this is a criminal offence. “A person in high position should be giving protection to people of the state, but they are doing illegal activities. It is not fair. There should be a proper enquiry. I do not know how many people’s phones were tapped, but the Director General of Police (DGP) has got the report. Now the investigation agency has to reveal (the details),” Gowda told News18.
Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa refused to comment on the episode, merely saying that he is aware of the allegations and will take action after discussing it with officials.
Former chief minister HD KUmaraswamy tweeted on Wednesday evening that he was the one who always used to say that the CM’s chair is not a permanent one. “I did not have any necessity to save this seat by tapping anyone’s phones. The allegations against me are baseless.”
Congress MLA Ramalinga Reddy, who had alleged that his phone was tapped by the BJP government at the Centre when he was the state home minister, feels phone tapping has been ordered by successive governments.
"When I was the home minister (in the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government), my phone was tapped by the BJP government then. Now there are allegations that it was happening during the (JDS-Congress) coalition rule. I'm sure it will continue to happen even in the present BJP regime. Let them do it. Why should I worry when I have done nothing wrong," Reddy told reporters.