Ahead of the Budget Session of Parliament, Opposition parties Saturday revived their attack on the Government over the Pegasus spying row.
Citing a report Friday by The New York Times that New Delhi bought the Israeli spyware in 2017 as part of a $2-billion package for weapons, the Congress said it would raise the issue in Parliament arguing that the Government had “deceived” the House.
Besides the Congress, the Trinamool Congress, CPM, RJD, NCP and the Shiv Sena, too, asked the Government to come out of its “denial mode” and acknowledge its role in targeting political leaders, journalists, judges and civil society activists using the spyware.
Addressing a press conference, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge said that the Congress had raised the issue in Parliament and it would raise it again. The Pegasus issue had rocked the Monsoon Session of Parliament last year with the Opposition parties disrupting both Houses demanding a discussion on the scandal.
The Modi government, Kharge said, has been “caught lying to Parliament that they had nothing to do with Pegasus and never bought the spyware from NSO group”. He said the government has also misled the Supreme Court. “We will ensure that those guilty will be held accountable and raise this vociferously in Parliament,” he said.
The Congress said it will reach out to other Opposition parties to formulate a joint strategy. Kharge as also senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi argued that illegal snooping using Pegasus amounted to treason.
“Modi Government bought Pegasus to spy on our primary democratic institutions, politicians and public. Government functionaries, opposition leaders, armed forces, judiciary all were targeted by these phone tappings. This is treason. The Modi Government has committed treason,” Gandhi tweeted.
At the press conference with Kharge, Congress communication department Randeep Surjewala said the Modi government had deceived Parliament and the Supreme Court.
“Three things have become very clear now. The government deceived Parliament and duped the Supreme Court. The people of India were lied to by the Government and its Ministers. The role of the Prime Minister and his responsibility is now directly in question. We will discuss this with other political parties and seek accountability of the Prime Minister on the floor of Parliament,” he said.
Arguing that the government had misled the Supreme Court as it had, in a sworn affidavit, unequivocally denied the allegations made against it on the Pegasus row, he said :“We will urge upon the Supreme Court to now suo motu take note and issue appropriate penal proceedings against this government for deliberately and knowingly deceiving the Supreme Court…it is nothing short of perjury and deception of the court.”
Referring to the NYT report, Trinamool Congress leader Sukhendu Sekhar Roy said: “We strongly believe…(it’s) a factual representation of the purchase of the spyware by the Indian Government from Israel. The telephone of our party’s national general secretary Abhishek Bandhopadhyay, his secretary’s phone, were tapped,” Roy told The Indian Express.
Asked whether the party would raise the issue in Parliament, he said: “Our Parliamentary party will discuss and thereafter a decision will be taken.”
The Shiv Sena said the opposition stood vindicated today.
“What we had said when the Pegasus issue came to light last year…be it Rahul Gandhi, other leaders, all of us, inside and outside Parliament, we repeatedly tried to bring out facts and evidence regarding it. That all of us are under surveillance. Not just us, many of the senior leaders of the BJP are also under watch. The chief minister of UP is also under surveillance. Everybody knows that…We know what is happening. The bank accounts of our family members are being scrutinized. Who will listen to us? Is this democracy? This is a cheap form of dictatorship,” said Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut.
CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury said the Modi government must explain in an affidavit why it bought the cyber weapon and “who gave permission for its usage, how were the targets selected and who got these reports.”
“Silence on such a critical issue only means an acceptance of its criminal activity,” he said…Pegasus has been procured on public money to destroy our democracy…Unacceptable. This government must go.”
Said RJD leader Manoj Kumar Jha: “The latest revelation on Pegasus finally brings forth in the public domain which almost everyone knew. There cannot be a better example of how the Indian state is degenerating into a deep state.”
The NCP said the government is in the dock. Said its leader Majeed Memon:
“This kind of a secret deal by the Government of India would certainly invite suspicious queries as to whether this undercover deal of purchase of Pegasus in 2017 from Israel was in national interest or was it for other considerations…The government is in the dock to explain why Parliament was also kept uninformed about such a deal and unless a strong case of national security is made by the MHA such deals on the face of it would appear to be dubious,” NCP leader Majeed Memon said.
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 Gandhi, political strategist Prashant Kishor, the then Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa, now Information and Technology Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw (who was not the minister then).
The list also mentioned around 40 journalists, including three editors of The Indian Express — two current and one former, among those on the list of potential targets.
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