THE STANDOFF between the opposition and ruling BJP MPs over the Pegasus snooping issue spilled on to the Parliamentary standing committee on Information Technology, with the latter blocking proceedings of the panel’s meeting on Wednesday, citing lack of quorum.
The confrontation continued outside as well with BJP MP from Jharkhand Nishikant Dubey alleging that TMC MP Mahua Moitra called him “Bihari Goonda” thrice during the meeting. Moitra responded in a tweet, saying she was “amused” by the charges of name-calling as the meeting did not take place and, as per record, the BJP MPs were not present there.
Moitra was referring to what transpired when the committee met earlier in the day.
It is learnt that when the committee met to record evidence from officials of Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Ministry of Home Affairs and Department of Telecommunication on the subject “citizens’ data security and privacy”, the BJP MPs – 10 of them – insisted that the panel should not hold the meeting given the lack of quorum, which is one-third of the total 31 members.
When it was pointed out that 19 members were present, the BJP members said they had not signed the attendance sheet, and rules say they cannot be considered as present if their signatures are not there.
Also, the secretaries of the three ministries, who had confirmed their presence on July 20, wrote to the secretariat an hour before the meeting, seeking permission to excuse themselves, citing other “urgent” commitments, it is learnt. Panel chairman Shashi Tharoor, however, was said to have turned down the request.
The meeting witnessed uproarious scenes following which, sources said, Tharoor along with Congress’s Karti Chidambaram, Shaktisinh Gohil, Syed Nasir Hussain, DMK’s T Sumathy and Moitra met Speaker Om Birla to take up the issue of the officials excusing themselves at the last minute, which they said was against the rules.
The opposition members claimed the BJP did not want to discuss the Pegasus issue in Parliament at all, and has been trying to stall proceedings of the IT panel.
The BJP, on the other hand, maintained that the government was ready to discuss the issue in Parliament, and targeted the opposition parties.
Dubey later told The Indian Express that the Congress and TMC MPs did not want to discuss the issue inside the House, by indulging in disruptions, but wanted to take “political mileage” by raising it outside the House.
He also said he will take up the matter of Moitra’s behaviour with the Speaker on Thursday. “Mahua Moitra called me a goonda. In my 13 years of parliamentary experience, no one has behaved like this with me. I was shocked that a woman MP used such language against me. We will take up the matter with the Speaker tomorrow,” he said.
Dubey also tweeted, saying the TMC MP “has abused the entire Hindi-speaking people along with Bihar by using the word Bihari Gunda”.
In her response, Moitra tweeted: “Am a bit amused by charges of name-calling. IT mtng did not happen because NO quorum – members did not attend. How can I call someone a name who was not even present!! Check attendance sheet!”
Earlier in the day, Dubey, who in the past has written to the Speaker multiple times seeking Tharoor’s removal from the chairman’s post, raised an issue in Lok Sabha, saying he has given a notice of privilege against the Congress MP and sought his removal from the post. He alleged that Tharoor was using his position in a discriminatory manner and said a letter in this connection has been submitted to the Speaker on Tuesday. Rajendra Agrawal, who was in the Chair, said the Speaker would look into the matter.
Incidentally, the Pegasus issue had roiled the IT panel in 2019 as well, when WhatsApp made a disclosure that journalists and rights activists were alleged targets of surveillance by operators using the spyware. With BJP members objecting to a discussion, the panel then saw voting by members to decide whether the issue should be taken up for discussion. With 12 members on each side, it took a casting vote by chairman Tharoor to decide in favour of a discussion.
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