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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Nitish Kumar breaks ranks, calls for Pegasus probe, House debate

The demand for an investigation and discussion on Pegasus in Parliament by Nitish, leader of the BJP's biggest ally in the NDA, will embarrass the saffron party and the central government.

Written by Santosh Singh | Patna |
Updated: August 3, 2021 1:05:14 am
After 2019 refusal, JD(U) now keen to join Union ministryBihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. (File)

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, an important ally and coalition partner of the BJP, on Monday threw his weight behind the Opposition’s demand for a debate in Parliament on the Pegasus surveillance controversy.

Nitish also said that should the central government continue to reject the JD(U)’s demand for a caste census, the state government “would always have the option” of carrying out its own caste census exercise.

The Centre has stonewalled persistent demands by Opposition parties for an inquiry, or even a debate in Parliament, on the revelations made by a global media investigation on possible surveillance of phones using the Pegasus spyware developed by the Israeli cyber-intelligence company NSO Group.

It has also not responded to repeated demands by parties like the JD(U) and RJD to carry out a census exercise to determine the numbers of different caste groups.

“Let there be a discussion (in Parliament) on the matter (of alleged snooping). Phone-tapping has been discussed for a long time. One never knows how one’s phone can be tapped these days. So there must be a probe,” the Chief Minister said in response to reporters’ questions on the Pegasus controversy at his janta durbar in Patna.

“People have been talking about it (the alleged snooping) in Parliament. People can be harassed and disturbed with phone tapping. If one takes my view, the matter should be probed,” he said.

The Pegasus affair has struck another chord in the JD(U) given that one of the potential targets was strategist Prashant Kishor. “He was with the JD(U) between September 2018 and January 2020 and was in constant touch with senior leaders. Targeting his phone is a serious issue for us as well,” said a source.

On the caste census, Nitish said he had been talking to all parties in Bihar to send a joint letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi reiterating the demand, and to possibly also meet him in a delegation.

The Chief Minister, who also raised the demand for the caste census at his party’s national executive meeting last week, recalled that “A resolution on the caste census was passed unanimously by the Bihar Legislative Council in 2019 and by the Assembly in 2020.”

Asked if the Bihar government could hold its own exercise if the Centre did not oblige, Nitish said: “We will always have this option open. I have been saying this for long, in fact since 1990… A caste census was last done during the rule of the British. It will make every social group happy, and also help in better governance.”

He added: “The Centre did not release the list of castes saying it had flaws. What we had learnt was that the list was updated only till 2013. If there are indeed flaws, they can be rectified through the caste census.”

Asked about the statements from some leaders, mainly from the BJP, that the caste census could cause social discord, Nitish said: “I wonder why some people have been talking like this when a unanimous resolution had been passed in the House in 2019. It could be just their individual opinion…”

In New Delhi, the JD(U)’s newly elected president Lalan Singh too spoke of the Bihar legislature’s unanimous resolutions of 2019 and 2020.

Lalan led a delegation of his party’s leaders to a meeting with Home Minister Amit Shah to press the demand for a caste census on Monday. Lalan later told reporters that Shah had given them an assurance that the matter would be discussed.

On July 20, however, Union Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai had told Lok Sabha that the census for 2021 would not record caste populations other than the overall numbers of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Sources in the BJP said the party was hesitant to back the demand for a caste census because it feared that such a move could jeopardise its plans in a number of states, including election-bound Uttar Pradesh.

Veteran BJP leader and former Governor of Haryana and Tripura Kaptan Singh Solanki on Monday said he was in favour of a probe into the Pegasus allegations — however, since the matter would now be heard by the Supreme Court, it should be left to the court to take a decision in the matter.

“Democracy rests on mutual trust and privacy of individuals. This Pegasus issue is raised by foreign agencies. It has given many names, including MPs of both sides (ruling and Opposition), journalists and many others. It has resulted in an atmosphere of distrust. Therefore, I have said that…it should be probed,” PTI quoted Solanki as saying in an interview.

The demand for an investigation and discussion on Pegasus in Parliament by Nitish, leader of the BJP’s biggest ally in the NDA, will embarrass the saffron party and the central government. The government and BJP have been insisting that the allegations of possible snooping — which have united the Congress-led UPA, Trinamool Congress, SP, BSP, and the Left — is a “non-issue” and “non-serious”.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who has begun efforts to unite non-BJP parties before the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, has said that she would get in touch with Nitish if he breaks ties with the BJP in Bihar.

(With ENS, New Delhi)

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