Urging all Opposition parties to form a united front and start planning to defeat the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, TMC leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee Wednesday accused the government of making attempts to turn the country into a “surveillance state”.
Addressing the Martyrs’ Day rally via virtual mode from Kolkata — Opposition leaders such as Sharad Pawar, P Chidambaram, Digvijaya Singh, Ram Gopal Yadav, Manoj Jha, Tiruchi Siva, Supriya Sule, Sanjay Singh, K Keshava Rao, Jaya Bachchan were among those present at the Constitution Club in New Delhi ahead of her address — Banerjee appealed to the Supreme Court to take suo motu cognisance of alleged surveillance using the Pegasus spyware.
Holding up her phone, she showed its camera covered with tape. “I have plastered my phone because they tape everything, be it video or audio… This government should also be plastered over, otherwise this country will be destroyed… Do you know I cannot talk to Chidambaramji because my phone will be tapped? I cannot talk to Sharad Pawarji. I cannot talk to even the Delhi Chief Minister. I cannot talk to Shiv Sena Chief Minister. I cannot talk to the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister. I cannot talk to the Odisha Chief Minister. Why? … Instead of giving money to the poor, you are spending a lot of money on spygiri.”
Calling the spyware “dangerous” and “ferocious”, she said: “Pegasus is dangerous. They are harassing people… Spygiri is going on. Phones of ministers, judges are being tapped. They have finished the democratic structure. Pegasus captured the election process, the judiciary, ministers and media houses. Instead of a democratic state, they want to convert it into a surveillance state.”
She alleged that the government was snooping on Abhishek Banerjee (her nephew and MP) and Prashant Kishor (poll strategist) — their names figured in a list of possible targets of alleged surveillance using the Pegasus spyware, which was published by digital news platform The Wire as part of a global collaborative investigation.
Appealing to the Supreme Court, she said: “Save the country, save democracy. Can’t you take suo motu cognisance as all phones are tapped? Set up a panel to probe… Only the judiciary can save the country.”
She called upon all Opposition parties to unite against the BJP. “Ek saath hoke gathbandhan taiyaar karein, aage bade, mein aap logo ke saath ek hoke, worker ke maafik, ek saath ladenge (Unite to form a coalition, step forward. I will be with you, let us fight like workers).”
She said there was no time to waste in planning for the next general elections. “I will be in Delhi next week and I want to meet Opposition leaders during the ongoing Parliament session. I propose you call a meeting of Opposition leaders between 26 and 28 of this month. We are keen to attend,” she said.
Giving a twist to her Assembly election victory slogan ‘khela hobe‘, she said: “One game has happened in Bengal and another game is afoot. We will declare August 16 as Khel Divas in Bengal.”
Targeting the Prime Minister, Banerjee said: “Mr Modi, don’t mind, I am not attacking you personally. But you, and may be the Home Minister, are deploying (law enforcement) agencies against Opposition leaders. You are misusing the agencies.”
The government, she said, was spending tax money on spyware and not on the welfare of the people. “Look at the petrol prices. The Government of India collected Rs 3.7 lakh crore from fuel tax alone. Where is the money going?” she said.
“BJP has destroyed the Constitution. Their party members have become NHRC members… Today, when people want freedom and progress, good healthcare, education and jobs, all that the Central government is interested in is violence, divisive politics, clashes, mistrust among people… this is not what India needs,” she said.
“BJP failed in managing Covid-19. No vaccines, no medicines, bodies floating in the Ganga but PM Modi applauds Uttar Pradesh as the best state… BJP is a high-load virus party. Their only motto is ‘goli‘ and ‘gaali‘… Good governance has no alternative but BJP only wants conflict and sectarianism. We are ready to give free ration to the nation. We distributed 10 lakh student credit cards besides laptops, hostel fee, tuition fee, etc. We are giving Rs 10,000 to farmers. Bengal is the real model, not Gujarat… I urge the common people to protest against inflation, fuel price hike, Pegasus snoopgate,” she said.