The Rajasthan Police have lodged a first information report against the media manager of former Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot and a journalist for reporting the alleged phone tapping of Congress MLAs during their stay in a hotel in Jaisalmer, The Indian Express reported on Wednesday. The allegations were made while there was a political crisis in the state and infighting between Congress MLAs.

The FIR was lodged at Jaipur’s Vidhayak Puri police station on October 1. Lokendra Singh and Aaj Tak journalist Sharat Kumar have been booked under Sections 505 (1) (whoever makes, publishes or circulates any statement, rumour or report), 505 (2) (statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes), 120 B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code and Section 76 of the Information and Technology Act (the Act allows police to confiscate any kind of gadget related to information sharing).

“They couldn’t give a logical response when asked about the source of (the) fake news,” the FIR read, according to The Indian Express. “The investigation makes it clear that Lokendra Singh of XYZ news agency and Sharat Kumar of Rajasthan Tak (Aaj Tak) are responsible for spreading the misleading and fake news.”

“Police had summoned Lokendra Singh to the police station on Thursday along with his gadgets which were used for the information dissemination of ‘phone tapping report’,” the station house officer of Vidhayak Puri police station told Outlook.

“I was the last one to report the ‘phone tapping’ story,” Kumar told Outlook. “Most of my colleagues had reported the same story. I fail to understand that why the government has singled out one media house in particular.”

The phone tapping allegations surfaced in July after two audio clips of a purported conversation about a conspiracy to overthrow the Ashok Gehlot-led government emerged. The Bharatiya Janata Party had demanded a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry into the allegations of phone tapping. The Congress, on the other hand, had used the clips to claim that Pilot was involved in horse-trading with the BJP. However, the matter was brushed under the carpet after the Pilot and Gehlot camp signed a truce in August.

The BJP and activists have criticised the Gehlot government for attacking on freedom of press.

“We condemn the vindictiveness of the Rajasthan Government led by CM Ashok Gehlot, which has sanctioned the lodging of FIR against two senior journalists, Sarat Kumar of Aaj Tak and Lokendra Singh (XYZ news Channel),” read a statement by People’s Union for Civil Liberties. “These two journalists have been targeted for reporting about an alleged phone tapping incident of MLAs who were rounded up in Jaislamer, by the Congress party, during August 2020, when there was an open confrontation between CM Ashok Gehlot Vs Dy CM Sachin Pilot in the months of July and August.”

The Opposition BJP accused Gehlot of suppressing the fourth pillar of democracy. “Ashok Gehlot who often talks about the democracy being in danger is now suppressing the fourth pillar of democracy because in past days journalist have raised the voices of deprived and voiceless,” tweeted Rajasthan BJP President Satish Poonia.

Congress imbroglio in Rajasthan

On August 16, the Congress had appointed Ajay Maken the general secretary in charge of Rajasthan, two days after the Gehlot-led government won the trust vote in the Assembly. Maken replaced Avinash Pandey at the top post. Pandey’s replacement was one of the key demands made by the Pilot camp.

Maken and Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala had been in Rajasthan for nearly a month to work a way out of the political crisis in the state.

The Gehlot-led Congress government won a trust vote in the Assembly on August 14, ending a month-long political turmoil in the state, triggered by Pilot’s revolt against the party. A day before the trust vote, Pilot and Gehlot met at a key Congress meeting, where they were seen greeting each other. On August 10, the Congress secured a truce with Pilot by announcing a three-member panel to address his grievances.