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Monday, July 04, 2022

Govt misled House on Pegasus, says Congress; moves privilege motion

A global consortium of media groups had revealed in July 2021 that the spyware had been used by several governments around the world to snoop on opponents, journalists, businessmen etc.

Written by Manoj C G | New Delhi |
Updated: January 31, 2022 7:43:58 am
TMC MPs display placards as they stage a protest over the issue of surveillance during the Monsoon Session of Parliament (PTI/File)

With the first leg of the Budget session of Parliament set to begin Monday amid a high-octane campaign for Assembly elections in five states, the Congress on Sunday gave a notice in Lok Sabha for moving a privilege motion against Minister for Electronics and Information Technology Ashwini Vaishnaw for “misleading” the House on the Pegasus spyware issue. A similar notice will be given in Rajya Sabha as well.

Citing a report by The New York Times that India bought the Israeli spyware in 2017 as part of a $2-billion package for weapons, Congress leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, who wrote to Speaker Om Birla seeking permission to move a privilege motion, said, “It appears that the Modi Government has misled the Parliament and the Supreme Court and lied to the people of India.”

Responding to reports that government allegedly used Israeli spyware Pegasus to snoop on political leaders, journalists, judges and civil society activists, Vaishnaw had on the opening day of the Monsoon session of Parliament on July 19 last year told both Houses that the story was “sensational” and an attempt “to malign Indian democracy and its well established institutions”.

“The Government, on the floor of the House, always maintained that it had nothing to do with the Pegasus spyware and it never bought the spyware from the NSO Group. The Modi Government also lied to the Supreme Court when it was directly questioned about the purchase and deployment of Pegasus,” Chowdhury notice on Sunday said.

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“In a sworn affidavit, the Government said ‘unequivocally, we deny any and all of the allegations against the Government’ on the Pegasus issue. In light of the latest revelations by The New York Times, it appears that the Modi government has misled Parliament and the Supreme Court and lied to the people of India. In view of the above, I demand that a Privilege Motion may be initiated against the Minister of Information Technology for deliberately misleading the House on the issue,” he wrote.


Poll echo in Parliament

The electoral battle in five states is likely to find an echo in Parliament. The Opposition will use the discussions on the Motion of Thanks to the President’s Address and the general Budget to attack the government. All eyes will also be on the Budget to see if the government will announce any schemes with an eye on the elections.

A global consortium of media groups had revealed in July 2021 that the spyware had been used by several governments around the world to snoop on opponents, journalists, businessmen etc.

The Indian leg of the investigation, conducted by The Wire, had reported that among the potential list of targets were Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, political strategist Prashant Kishor, then Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa, now Information and Technology Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw (who was not a minister then), along with several other prominent names. The list also mentioned numbers of around 40 journalists, including three editors of The Indian Express — two current and one former.

With an eye on the Assembly elections, Opposition parties are likely to raise, besides Pegasus, issues such as “agrarian distress”, Chinese “incursions” and the state of the economy. President Ram Nath Kovind will address a joint sitting of both the Houses on the opening day Monday. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will present the Economic Survey 2021-22 after his address. She will present the Union Budget on Tuesday.

Like the Monsoon session last year, parliamentary proceedings will be held under strict Covid-19 protocol. Rajya Sabha will met in the first half of the day and Lok Sabha during the second half. The first part of the session, which will conclude on February 11, will have 10 sittings. The second part will begin on March 14 and end on April 8.

According to the Rajya Sabha Secretariat, the session will have 29 sittings in all.

“A total of 135 hours of sitting time is available for Rajya Sabha for transacting various items of business during the 27 sittings scheduled during February 2-April 8, 2022 at the rate of 5 hours per day,” the secretariat said. About 79 hours of the 135 hours will be for taking up the Government’s legislative agenda and issues of public concern, it added.

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