NEWS
16/08/2019 12:15 PM IST | Updated 16/08/2019 1:16 PM IST

Karnataka:Phone-Tapping Allegations May Be Final Straw For Embattled Congress-JD(S) Alliance

While HD Kumaraswamy has denied the allegations, senior Congress leaders, including Siddaramaiah, have called for a probe.

MANJUNATH KIRAN via Getty Images

BENGALURU — The chances of the Congress-JD(S) alliance in Karnataka being able to take on the newly formed Yediyurappa government anytime soon looks unlikely, after allegations that former chief minister HD Kumaraswamy had ordered the tapping of telephones of senior politicians, police officers and journalists during his tenure.

The cracks in the alliance aren’t new—they had widened after the recent Lok Sabha polls, where the coalition won just two of the state’s 28 Lok Sabha seats and came to a head with the fall of the Kumaraswamy government in July—but what threatens to blow it wide open are the allegations that even the phone conversations of former CM and Congress Legislature Party leader Siddaramaiah and his media staff were tapped. That Siddaramaiah was not happy with the alliance, which was formed after the May 2018 state assembly polls with Kumaraswamy at the helm, was no secret. Aware of Siddaramaiah’s animosity towards him, Kumaraswamy used to frequently state from public platforms that the continuation of the coalition government was in the hands of the former chief minister. 

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The audio-gate (telephone tapping) controversy, which had initially disclosed the lobbying by senior IPS officers for the prestigious Bengaluru city police commissioner’s post, now seems to have engulfed politicians across party lines. Yediyurappa has now ordered an enquiry into the matter. 

The alleged eavesdropping on conversations of senior politicians has enraged the Congress. 

In a tweet on Thursday, Siddaramaiah said: 

Dinesh Gundurao, Karnataka Congress president, also echoed him: “Phone tapping is a very sensitive subject. If it has been done illegally, then action should be taken.”  

While former Prime Minister and JD(S) supremo HD Deve Gowda slammed the BJP for what he called “baseless allegations”, Kumaraswamy told the media: “I have always asserted that the CM’s post is not permanent. To retain such a seat, I had no need to opt for phone tapping. The allegations made against me, by some in this regard, is far from truth.”  

According to Congress sources, the coalition’s performance in the Lok Sabha results had reinforced the belief that the parties can never work together. 

“The latest development that our coalition partner had allegedly tapped phones has breached trust between us,” they added.

Senior Congress MLA and former home minister Ramalinga Reddy said he had formally lodged a complaint against the Modi government for the same issue during his party’s regime. 

“It is wrong whichever government does it. What is telephone tapping? You are stealthily hearing into the conversation of somebody, which amounts to theft,″ he told HuffPost India.

The anger is not confined to Congress circles — JD(S) former president and disqualified MLA AH Vishwanath, said: “If you can tap the phone of JD(S) state president, what kind of politics is that?″ 

This isn’t the first time

Karnataka’s dubious history of phone-tapping of politicians dates back to 1988, when Ramakrishna Hegde, the first non-Congress CM of the state, had to step down after he was accused of the same. The irony is that the Congress government at the Centre used the issue of telephone-tapping, raised by opposition MPs, to force him to step down. Janata Party’s Madhu Dandavate and Telugu Desam Party’s MP C Madhava Reddy had asked a question in the Lok Sabha on the tapping of politicians’ telephones.

The Union government had done its homework by collecting information on the tapping of politicians’ telephones in Karnataka. It tabled evidence of orders signed by a senior police officer to tap the phones of 51 Janata Party dissidents and Congressmen in Karnataka—topping the list was Deve Gowda, who was at loggerheads with Hegde. On 8 August 1988, Hegde, who had reached New Delhi following the developments, resigned.

Siddaramaiah doesn’t have a clean record either. In 2017, former home minister and BJP MLA R Ashoka had written to governor Vajubhai R Vala that the Siddaramaiah government was monitoring the conversations of his political opponents through a retired IPS officer.