4 decades on, phone tapping still haunts Karnataka politics | Bengaluru News – Times of India

BENGALURU: For over four decades, successive governments in Karnataka have been accused by the opposition and the rival faction of the ruling party of spying on them by employing methods such as tapping of telephones and surveillance.
But on most occasions, the allegations have contained more rhetoric than substance.
The latest allegation of phone tapping has come from BJP MLA Arvind Bellad, a CM aspirant, and is being investigated.
The last time a phone-tapping accusation took a serious turn was in 1988 as it led to the fall of then chief minister Ramakrishna Hegde’s government.
“It is no doubt that every government, irrespective of the political party, carries out some degree of behind-the-scenes operation as part of its intelligence outfit. But it’s hard to prove since private operators are now playing a big role in the telecom sector unlike in the 1980s and 90s,’’ said BL Shankar, former chairman of the legislative council.
All CMs in Karnataka have faced phone-tapping allegations. In 2019, the CBI had taken up probe into illegal tapping of Karnataka politicians’ phones between August 1, 2018 and August 19, 2019, but the report is still awaited.
It was alleged then CM HD Kumaraswamy had ordered illegal tapping of several politicians and rebel MLAs’ phones when his government faced a crisis that ended in his ouster.
The case hogged limelight after a purported audio recording of a phone conversation between Faraz Ahmed and then Bengaluru police commissioner Bhaskar Rao was leaked to media.
Sandeep Shastri, a political analyst, said: “In this technology-savvy world, it is not difficult to tap conversations and leverage the authority that one has to keep tabs on one’s political opponent and potential rebels among one’s own supporters. All parties that have come to power have abused authority to try and illegally gather information about their opponents. This is then selectively used during a political crisis to embarrass the opponent or someone who has to be targeted.”
In March, Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot had admitted that phones were indeed intercepted (lawfully) during a political crisis.
Quoting Section 5 (2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, a retired IPS officer who headed the intelligence wing of state police a decade ago, said the act of phone tapping affects right to privacy as well as right to freedom of speech and expression, which are fundamental rights under article 21 of the Constitution.
“If a telephone has to be tapped, home secretary of the Union government or the respective state government can issue an order to this effect. Strong reasons have to be specified to issue such a directive,” he added.

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Sagar Biswas

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