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Abhishek and Prashant on leaked list of Pegasus targets

The timing of the purported hacking of Kishor’s phone raises disturbing questions, especially whether the foulest form of electoral malpractice was committed
Prashant Kishor
Prashant Kishor
File picture

Meghdeep Bhattacharyya   |   Calcutta   |   Published 20.07.21, 02:13 AM

Abhishek Banerjee and Prashant Kishor, the two most influential figures associated with the Trinamul Congress during the recent Bengal elections after Mamata Banerjee, were among the potential or intended targets of the Pegasus spying operation, a media collective reported on Monday.

According to The Wire, the Indian news portal that was part of the global collective, Kishor’s phone was broken into using the spyware during the Bengal Assembly elections and the numbers of Abhishek and his personal secretary were among the potential targets.

The Guardian, the UK newspaper that was part of the media alliance, reported that an examination by Amnesty’s Security Lab “found evidence of intrusion by Pegasus in April — in the midst of the election campaign — indicating Kishor’s phone calls, emails and messages were being monitored throughout the final weeks of the bitter contest”.

The timing of the purported hacking of Kishor’s phone — in the middle of the Bengal Assembly elections — raises disturbing questions, especially whether the foulest form of electoral malpractice was committed by those who wanted to dislodge Mamata from power.

The Bengal election battlefield is no stranger to allegations of foul play but never before has the possibility of such sophisticated snooping entered the picture.

“Those who did (the hacking) were looking to take undue advantage of their position of power with the help of illegal snooping,” Kishor told The Guardian.

Kishor had also worked closely with the DMK in Tamil Nadu — another handsome victor this summer — and is on board with the Congress for the Punjab Assembly elections with speculation rife on a larger, pan-India role for him in the Opposition space.

According to The Wire, Amnesty’s forensic analysis found traces of infection on Kishor’s phone on April 28, just a day before the last of the eight phases of polling in Bengal. It added that traces of Pegasus on Kishor’s phone were also detected on 14 days in June 2021 and 12 days in July 2021, including July 13, the day he met Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in Delhi.

On Monday evening, Abhishek, Trinamul national general secretary, MP and Mamata’s nephew, tweeted: “Two Minutes of SILENCE for the SORE LOSERS!”

He added: “Despite ALLIES like ED, CBI, NIA, IT, ECI, @BJP4India’s money + might and #PegasusSpying, Mr @AmitShah couldn’t save his face in #BengalElections2021. Please COME Prepared with Better RESOURCES in 2024!”

Several senior Trinamul leaders said they expected Mamata to focus on the issue on Wednesday, July 21, when the party commemorates Martyrs’ Day.

“Expect fireworks from her on Wednesday,” said a party vice-president. Mamata is scheduled to address the biggest annual event on the Trinamul calendar virtually – because of the pandemic -- from 2pm. This time, the party has made arrangements for the event to be shown live at various locations across India, including Gujarat and Delhi.

“She realises the firepower of this issue, and she will utilise it optimally,” he said, quickly adding a reminder about Mamata’s repeated allegations in the past couple of years that her phone had been hacked by the BJP and the agencies at its disposal.

“If the use of such methods during the Bengal elections is taken as a test case, then it is quite clear that such things hardly have any impact on the electoral outcome,” Kishor told The Wire.

Kishor, who helped Trinamul script a remarkable turnaround within two years of the Lok Sabha poll setback, added: “Having said so, there is no denying that those who did so were looking to take undue advantage of their position of power with the help of illegal snooping.”

Kishor’s I-Pac has been retained by Trinamul for not only the general election of 2024 but also the Assembly polls of 2026 in Bengal.



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