Pegasus: "Modi taps everybody's phones"
It must be very difficult to be a man like Narendra Modi – with no friend he can trust, suspicious of all and everything, with honeyed words masking a malicious disposition and an ugly mind
I was reporting out of Gujarat all through Narendra Modi's time as chief minister and one thing that struck me through each assignment was how little trust there was between him and his party men. Every time I tried to talk to a BJP functionary, there was a lot of cloak-and-dagger intrigue and some elaborate footwork that tickled me pink no end.
No BJP man ever met me in his party office or at his home. If they at all did, nothing of importance was said. Most of our meetings were in market yards or school playgrounds or even fields belonging to the agricultural university or sewage dumps which made for very good ambience for my photojournalist colleague but was downright uncomfortable when I expected the cool air-conditioned comfort of a home or office. But I soon got used to it and even began to look forward to another adventurous encounter as time progressed.
Meeting with Congressmen was more comfortable – in hotels, restaurants, homes or offices. It took me some time to catch on to the vast difference in hospitality and once when I commented upon it to a businessman, he was not unsympathetic to the BJP men.
“That is because they know their phones are being tapped by Modi. You are a visiting journalist who will soon get away. They will be in deep trouble with him for telling you anything, have their careers ruined. Yet they are tempted to get the unsavoury facts out and thus the elaborate charade.”
I found that incredible at the time even though I had noticed I could never get last minute clarifications for my stories as I sat writing in my hotel room, racing towards my deadline. They simply either never picked up or someone else did to inform me the person was not available. The underlying note was that he would not be available and I should not call back again – there was so much rudeness and hostility in the tone that I never did, going without the clarification.
On one occasion when I met one such rude leader, he apologised and gave me a number – his driver's – if I ever needed a clarification. “But only if it is very urgent, mind you, for I won't be able to talk long since it is not my phone.”
I wondered how calling any number would cost the owner of that number any but later when I mentioned my puzzlement to a Congressman, he confirmed what the businessman had told me. "Modi taps everybody's phones, including ours but we don't care. The BJP guys, however, are very afraid and so they give you the driver's and maid's numbers for emergencies.”
I still did not believe it until the authentic tapes on the stalking of a young woman by the Gujarat Anti-Terrorism Squad were released. But now I believe Congress leaders in Gujarat too should have paid heed to the tapping of their phones for at least the 2012 election, which I covered extensively, should never have won Modi more than 100 seats out of 180 though he was making for at least 150. It is only after the Pegasus revelations that I realised how the 2019 elections were stolen from the rest of us and how tapping into Rahul Gandhi's phones would have helped the BJP to intercept every strategy and corrupt every winner from the opposition.
For, as I learnt from my Gujarat friends, both in the BJP and the Congress, Modi made doubly sure of his victory by identifying each sure-fire seat from the opposition and then targeting the poll agents and voters there – the latter were paid hugely not to vote for the Congress and paid even more when the winning Congress candidate lost. This was done by the simple expedient of willingly trapping and engaging the voters in other business and then they were allowed to run to the polling booth at closing time after doors were shut, so that they may not be accused by the candidate’s agents.
I thought that a fantastic conspiracy theory and never believed it until I realised the existence of electoral bonds that makes it difficult for any opposition party to receive funds in the proportion that the BJP does, makes it possible to buy up all the opposition, spy on them in various ways, get to their vulnerabilities, hack the electronic voting machines and thoroughly corrupt the people’s verdict. But, as we saw in West Bengal, no amount of spying or hacking could be a match for the people's mood and there is a point of diminishing returns as is now beginning to happen with Modi.
But there is one thing I must remark upon. Although the Gujarat assignments did bring me the knowledge that Modi trusts very few people, the Pegasus exposès reveal that he does not even trust those who consider themselves his friends. Anil Ambani was the first industrialist ever to sing Modi's praises while he was Gujarat chief minister and call for him becoming prime minister.
Modi imperilled his government by arm-twisting the French government to accord the Rafale deal to the completely inept Ambani. And yet his government is not beyond putting the man on target for spying- apart from other Dassault officials, the Saudi Arabian ambassador whose government has given Modi an award and, moreover, what I find tickling pink is that the government spies on both the Chinese ambassador and the Dalai Lama at the same time!
It reminded me, in very desi terms of what my grandmother used to caution about discretion – Idhar ki baat udhar aur udhar ki baat idhar karne wale ko kuch haasil nahin hota hai. So is the Modi government worse than a grandmother’s gossip? But such idhar-udhar ki baat becomes very ugly and downright sinister when it endangers journalists, politicians, institutional office holders and others. Aeschylus had famously said, "To trust no one is tyranny's disease."
The Pegasus exposès which reveal that the Modi government spied on and did not even trust journalists seen as close to them and in the position of their advisers shows us the nation is heading towards a terrible epidemic. It must be very difficult to be a man like Narendra Modi – with no friend he can trust, suspicious of all and everything, with honeyed words masking a malicious disposition and ugly mind.
Anil Ambani got taken in by it and suffered so much ignominy. Time for the rest of us to come to grips with the reality of our times - that the BJP's lust for power is completely destroying our nation, every which way.
(Views are personal)