Phone-tapping haunts Karnataka politics after three decades

First such case resulted in the fall of Hegde’s govt. in 1988

August 18, 2019 10:52 pm | Updated August 19, 2019 09:33 am IST - Bengaluru

The issue of phone-tapping has returned to the State politics in a big way after three decades. While the first such incident resulted in the fall of the then Chief Minister Ramakrishna Hegde’s government in 1988, it now threatens former Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy.

Incidentally, Mr. Kumaraswamy’s father H.D. Deve Gowda was among the alleged phone-tapping victims at that time.

“Back then, it was probably easy to intercept conversations of people as only landlines had to be tapped and the density of phone was very low. The Home Secretary had to give permission to the Deputy Inspector-General of Police (Intelligence) to tap phones of suspected anti-socials and anti-national elements,” a senior politician, who witnessed the fall of Ramakrishna Hegde, recalled.

“Unfortunately, along with anti-social elements, conversations of politicians from across the political spectrum and a few private individuals were also tapped.”

While the murmurs of phone-tapping had been doing the rounds, the late Chief Minister had always been denying the role of the State government in it — citing that the Department of Telecommunication was with the Union government. It had also been a fluid political atmosphere in the country.

A faction of the Janata Party led by Ramakrishna Hegde had merged with Jan Morcha of V.P. Singh to form the Janata Dal while Deve Gowda had remained with the Janata Party along with Ajit Singh. It was one of the conversations between Mr. Gowda and Mr. Singh that had been tapped, which made it to a national paper.

When the phone-tapping issue was raised in Parliament by leaders of the Opposition parties, the then Union Minister for Communication Bir Bahadur Singh announced in Parliament that nearly 50 phone numbers had been tapped in Karnataka and placed evidences, including orders signed by the DIG (Intelligence) to tap phones of Ramakrishna Hegde’s rivals in the party and outside, and certain individuals.

“Phones of people had been tapped for a long time and in a sustained manner. Hegde was a shrewd politician and wanted to understand his strength within the party and also the image of the government,” the politician said.

Former Law Minister M.C. Nanaiah recollected that the discussion on phone-tapping did not end with Ramakrishna Hegde’s tenure.

“Later, the then Chief Minister Veerendra Patil, who was best friends with Hedge, also tried to raise it in the legislature but later withdrew.”

In the later years, as former Chief Minister the late S. Bangarappa took over the State reigns, the allegations of phone-tapping resurfaced, and the DIG (Intelligence) had to present a report before the legislature about the phone numbers that had been tapped — since the time of Ramakrishna Hegde. “Once the report was placed, it became clear that phones had not been tapped during Bangarappa’s tenure, and the allegations were dropped,” Mr. Nanaiah, who was among the few lawmakers to access the report, recalled.

Since then, phone-tapping allegations have been made against Mr. Yediyurappa during his over three-year stint from 2008 when the BJP resorted to ‘Operation Lotus’ to poach Opposition legislators. Similar allegations were made by many Congress Ministers and leaders during Siddaramaiah’s tenure that their phones were being tapped by the Union government, and both allegations fizzled out without any inquiry.

“Even in 1988, Ramakrishna Hegde resigned soon after the Union Minister announced about the tapping. He was succeeded by his party colleague S.R. Bommai. Whatever little criticism that was aired by Congress also fizzled out after his resignation. So there was no inquiry into the incident,” Mr. Nanaiah recalled.

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