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Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, election strategist Prashant Kishor and Union IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw are among the top targets of Israeli spyware ‘Pegasus’, The Wire, in its second set of explosive revelations said.

Gandhi’s numbers, which he has since given up, are part of a large database of leaked numbers believed to be drawn up by NSO Group clients and accessed by the French media nonprofit Forbidden Stories and shared with 16 news organisations, including The Wire, The Guardian, Washington Post, Le Monde and Haaretz.

The latest reveal includes two current Union Ministers, Prahlad Patel and Ashwini Vaishnaw. Some 18 phones within the close circle of Patel appear in the leaked list. 

Prashant Kishor has played a big role in the BJP’s 2014 campaign that saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi come to power for the first time with a spectacular mandate and has since had a galaxy of political clients mostly opposed to the BJP. Recently, he was credited with a role in the victories of Mamata Banerjee in Bengal and MK Stalin in Tamil Nadu.

The list reveals that several people associated with the functioning of elections were also selected for potential surveillance. 

Vaishnaw defended the government in parliament earlier today, saying there was “no substance” behind the sensational claims.“A highly sensational story was published by a web portal last night. Many over-the-top allegations made around this story. The press reports appeared a day before the monsoon session of Parliament. This can’t be a coincidence…In the past, similar claims were made regarding the use of Pegasus on WhatsApp. Those reports had no factual basis and were denied by all parties. Press reports of 18 July 2021 also appear to be an attempt to malign Indian democracy and its well-established institutions.” he said.

Earlier in the day, Ashok Lavasa, the only member of the 3-man Election Commission to rule that PM Modi had violated the Model Code of Conduct while campaigning for the 2019 general election, was also selected as a potential candidate for surveillance, according to leaked records of phone numbers that The Wire has seen.

On Sunday, The Wire as part of an investigation has revealed that at least 40 Indian journalists from across media houses were on a list of potential targets for surveillance, carried out through a systematic hacking of their devices using the controversial Israeli spyware Pegasus. In a detailed report, it also added that forensic tests confirmed that a number of the potential victims had indeed been spied upon by unidentified sources via the Pegasus app.

Pegasus is a spyware that was developed by an Israeli “cyber weapons” company named NSO Group.  The first time it hit the news was in 2016 when several iPhone users were believed to be targeted by the software to hack them. While iPhone claimed to fix the vulnerabilities that allowed Pegasus to infiltrate its users’ devices, the spyware was later reported to also hack Android devices.

The report also added that along with the 40 journalists,  “three major opposition figures, one constitutional authority, two serving ministers in the Narendra Modi government, current and former heads and officials of security organisations and scores of businesspersons” were part of the list of potential or past victims. 

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