An Independent member of parliament from the Mandya constituency in Karnataka, the actress turned politician, Sumalatha Ambarish, has said that her telephone was being tapped during the tenure of the Congress-JDS government in the state in 2018-19 and that CBI officers probing the illegal tapping case approached her with details of numbers that were tapped.
The Mandya MP raised the issue of the illegal tapping of her phone in the course of a war of words with leaders of the opposition Janata Dal Secular party, including former chief minister H D Kumaraswamy, over alleged illegal mining around the KRS dam region in the Mandya district.
Sumalatha Ambarish also said that the phone of an important seer of the Vokkaliga community Nirmalananda Swami was also tapped illegally during the tenure of the Congress-JDS government.
“CBI officials have come and spoken to me regarding the phone tapping affair. They spoke to me twice – once in Delhi and once in Bengaluru – two officers spoke to me. They showed me a list of phone numbers that were being tapped and said ‘they were tapping your phone’,” the MP said.
“The telephone of the seer was also being tapped. It is not right for me to drag a highly revered person like the seer into this controversy but this is a fact and I have to mention it to expose the things that these people are doing. I don’t have any choice,” Sumalatha Ambarish told reporters on Friday amid a heated war of words with JDS leaders over alleged illegal mining in Mandya.
The Mandya MP – who won a surprise victory in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls by defeating Nikhil Kumaraswamy the son of the then JDS chief minister of Karnataka H D Kumaraswamy – has been mocked in recent days by JDS leaders, including Kumaraswamy, for raising issues of alleged illegal mining in the Mandya region and alleged hindrances to development work by local politicians.
Sumalatha Ambarish, who is the wife of the popular Kannada film star M H Ambarish from Mandya, who died in 2019, has been engaged in a war of words with JDS leaders over the last few days where old issues ranging from the tapping of phones by the JDS-Congress government to controversies around the funeral of Ambarish has been raked up by the warring groups.
Without naming any political party or leader Sumalatha Ambarish recently claimed that the KRS Reservoir – which provides the water needs of farmers in the Mandya region – is in danger of developing cracks due to stone quarrying with dynamite around the dam region. She said that local villagers had approached her to complain about the illegal mining linked to local politicians.
The former Karnataka chief minister H D Kumaraswamy however questioned the MP for suddenly awakening to the illegal mining situation. He belittled Sumalatha Ambarish’s claims and said she should “lie down in the dam to seal cracks”.
The former CM said he had introduced a policy to ensure that there is no mining activity within 20 km of the site of the reservoir. A JDS MLA from the region Ravindra Srikantaiah, with alleged mining interests, has also questioned the MP’s sudden concern over illegal mining in the region.
The issue of the alleged illegal tapping of the telephone of Sumalatha Ambarish during the tenure of the H D Kumaraswamy government had first emerged in 2019.
During campaigning in March 2019, audio clips of phone conversations of members in her camp were released in the public domain, and Sumalatha had complained to the Election Commission that she was being placed under telephone surveillance.
After the exit of the JDS-Congress government in July 2019 a police probe found that telephones of many people were illegally tapped under the previous dispensation.
Investigations showed that Sumalatha, who won the Mandya seat against great odds, and a group of her supporters — actors Darshan and Yash, local political leaders and their associates — were among those whose calls were intercepted by clubbing them with persons being investigated for crimes.
The calls of Nirmalananda Swami, a prominent seer of the Vokkaliga community that dominates the Mandya constituency, was also illegally intercepted in a similar manner as part of a larger political strategy to gain an upper hand over the Sumalatha group in the LS polls, it emerged.
In August 2019, the new BJP state government had ordered a full-fledged CBI investigation after a preliminary probe by Bengaluru Police revealed that large scale illegal tapping had allegedly occurred during the tenure of the JD(S)-Congress coalition government.
Kumaraswamy has in the past denied links to the alleged illegal tapping of phones by the Bengaluru police during his tenure. “Phone tapping has occurred during the tenure of every chief minister. Let them investigate me if they want. There are no worries,” he said after the scandal emerged in public.
“It has come to the notice of the government that there are apprehensions that phones of several ruling and opposition political leaders, their relatives and other government officials, have been intercepted in an illegal/unauthorized/unwanted manner,” the Karnataka government said in its 2019 order to transfer the case to the CBI.
Earlier, an FIR was registered at the Bengaluru City cyber crime police station by the crime branch regarding the alleged phone-tapping under section 72 of the IT Act 2000, for breach of confidentiality and privacy, and section 26 of the Indian Telegraph Act 1885, for illegal tapping of phones without proper authorisation or divulging of tapped information.