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Govt misled House and SC: Opposition

Pegasus: Narendra Modi govt committed treason, says Rahul

The New York Times reported on Friday that India bought the Israeli spyware in 2017 as part of a military deal
Narendra Modi.
Narendra Modi.
File photo

Sanjay K. Jha   |   New Delhi   |   Published 30.01.22, 01:31 AM

The Congress on Saturday accused the Centre of having committed “treason” by buying and using the Israeli spyware Pegasus against Indian citizens, insisting the latest media revelations had confirmed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal culpability in the matter.

Rahul Gandhi tweeted: “Modi Govt 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. Modi Government has committed treason.”

The New York Times reported on Friday that India bought Pegasus in 2017 as part of a military deal. A panel tasked by the Supreme Court is looking into allegations that the phones of several politicians, journalists and at least one judge were on a list of potential targets to be hacked with Pegasus.

The Congress asked the Supreme Court to take suo motu notice of the new revelations and initiate proceedings against the government.

The Modi administration remained largely silent, deploying an unnamed “government source” to tell a section of the media the known fact that the report of the committee appointed by the Supreme Court is “awaited”.

Modi chose not to comment on a day a coincidence was in play — Saturday happened to be the 30th anniversary of the establishment of full-fledged diplomatic relations between India and Israel.  An underlying thread in The New York Times Magazine report was a suggestion that Israel reaped diplomatic gains around the world from the Pegasus spyware.

Modi stuck to diplomatic niceties, saying in a special video message that there cannot be a better time to set new goals for taking forward India-Israel relations. “I am confident that India-Israel friendship will continue to set new records of mutual cooperation in the decades to come,” he said.

V.K. Singh, minister of state for road transport and highways and civil aviation and former army chief, said on Twitter: “Can you trust NYT?? They are known ‘Supari Media’.”

Subramanian Swamy, now a BJP MP who takes an occasional swipe at the government, tossed a “Watergate” grenade into the controversy.

Swamy tweeted that the “Modi government must rebut New York Times revelations today that it did indeed subscribe by payment from tax payers money of Rs 300 crores to spyware Pegasus sold by Israeli NSO company. This implies prima facie our Govt misled Supreme Court and Parliament. Watergate?”

CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury said in a tweet: “The Modi government must explain on affidavit why it bought this cyber weapon, who gave the 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.”

CPI general secretary D. Raja alleged that the government hid the truth from Parliament and it was now answerable.

Shiv Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi said the spyware was used not for defence purposes but to snoop on the Opposition and journalists. “If the BJP is there, it is possible. They have made the country into a Bigg Boss show,” she tweeted.

India’s former permanent representative to the UN Syed Akbaruddin dismissed as “utter rubbish” the “insinuation” in The New York Times report which cited India’s 2019 vote in support of Israel at the UN’s Economic and Social Council to highlight the deepening of ties after the deal that included the sale of Pegasus.

The Congress declared its intent of holding the government accountable in Parliament, indicating the budget session that starts on Monday is set to witness a storm. It accused the government of misleading the Supreme Court and Parliament on the matter.

An entire session of Parliament was washed out while the government refused to answer whether it had bought Pegasus. The Supreme Court later came up with the same query and, failing to obtain an unambiguous answer from the government, ordered an inquiry by an independent committee.

Mallikarjun Kharge, leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, said the Congress would evolve a strategy with like-minded parties to fix accountability on the Prime Minister.

The Congress is likely to use the issue to get the non-BJP parties working in tandem in Parliament at a time the upcoming Assembly polls would have been expected to affect Opposition unity in the House.

The Youth Congress launched a protest against the Prime Minister.

Congress communications chief Randeep Surjewala dared the government to sue the US newspaper if the report was incorrect.

“What we always said has come true. The Modi government is the deployer and executor of the illegal and unconstitutional snooping and spying racket through Israeli surveillance spyware Pegasus and Prime Minister Modi is himself involved! This is a brazen hijack of democracy and an act of treason,” he said.

“Modi was obsessed with power and hence targeted political rivals, officials and constitutional authorities instead of deploying them against anti-national forces and terrorists.

“It (Pegasus) was deployed for snooping on Rahul Gandhi and his staff members; former Prime Minister (H.D.) Deve Gowda, former (Karnataka) chief ministers (P.C.) Siddaramaiah and (H.D.) Kumaraswamy; former BJP chief minister (of Rajasthan) Vasundhara Raje Scindia; BJP cabinet minister Prahlad Singh Patel, his wife and staff; present IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw and his wife; OSD (officer on special duty) of Union minister Smriti Irani; Abhishek Banerjee, MP and nephew of Mamata Banerjee.”

Surjewala added: “Not only this, Supreme Court judges; Election Commission of India; CBI director Alok Verma and his wife and family; K.K. Sharma, head of the BSF; BSF IG (inspector-general) Jagdish Maithani; RAW officer Jitender Kumar Ojha and his wife; Indian army officers — Col Mukul Dev and Col Amit Kumar — were also targeted (through) Pegasus. The target list also included advocates, activists and even journalists of prominent media organisations.”

Surjewala accused the government of misleading the nation.

“IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw dismissed reports of India’s Pegasus use as ‘baseless’ and ‘highly sensational’,” he said.

“In its sworn affidavit, the government (represented through the ministry of electronics and information technology) claimed to ‘unequivocally deny any and all of the allegations made against the (government)’.

“The BJP machinery engaged in a massive and coordinated strategy to dupe and betray the Indian public. Home minister Amit Shah went a step further, rejecting it (earlier snooping allegations) as a ‘report by the disrupters for the obstructers’.”

Additional reporting from PTI

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