Pegasus snooping: Opposition firm on Modi govt’s clarification
The Narendra Modi government’s reluctance to immediately discuss the Pegasus snooping allegations and the Opposition’s insistence on a debate — launching a signature campaign in the Lok Sabha — continued to stymie Parliament proceedings for the eighth day.
The Opposition on Thursday upped the ante on Pegasus, demanding discussions on the snooping controversy in both Houses of Parliament, but the government appeared to be fighting shy of such debates despite claiming readiness to “discuss all issues”.
At a meeting of the Lok Sabha business advisory committee chaired by Speaker Om Birla, the government said the Covid situation should be discussed first but the Opposition remained firm on Pegasus, sources said.
The Rajya Sabha has already discussed the pandemic in the ongoing monsoon session and the government’s wish to take it up in the Lok Sabha as well is being seen as an attempt to divert attention from the snooping row.
The Congress members in the Lok Sabha launched a signature drive on Thursday to demand a discussion on Pegasus.
“Tomorrow the memorandum with the signatures of Opposition MPs will be submitted to the Lok Sabha Speaker,” Congress MP Kodikunnil Suresh said.
“The government is running away from a discussion on Pegasus and accusing us of stalling the House,” Suresh said.
Sources in the government said that while the Centre could eventually agree to a discussion on Pegasus, it was of the opinion that the Opposition was trying to score a point by insisting that Prime Minister Modi or home minister Amit Shah address Parliament on the snooping controversy, and not any other minister.
In a bid to break the stalemate, Rajya Sabha leader Piyush Goyal and parliamentary affairs minister Pralhad Joshi reached out to leader of the Opposition in the Upper House, Mallikarjun Kharge of the Congress, on Thursday.
Sources claimed that at the meeting, the government showed readiness to discuss Pegasus but said newly appointed minister for electronics and information technology Ashwini Vaishnaw would reply in the House. This was not acceptable to the Opposition. Vaishnaw had earlier tried to make a statement in the Rajya Sabha but Opposition members had vehemently protested.
“The Pegasus snooping is a very serious issue and none less than the Prime Minister or the home minister should clarify to Parliament,” an Opposition MP said.
Government managers said they feared the Opposition was eyeing a washout of the monsoon session to gain political mileage and so the ruling side was treading carefully on accepting the demand for an immediate discussion on Pegasus.
“What is the guarantee that the Opposition will let Parliament run if Pegasus is discussed? After Pegasus they can pick up other issues like repeal of farm laws to stall Parliament,” a BJP leader said.
Internally, however, the government is wary of getting cornered if Pegasus is discussed in both Houses as the Opposition would press for a clear answer on whether the Centre had purchased the spyware from Israeli firm NSO and used it to snoop on judges, journalists, politicians, activists and others.
The government has been evading a direct reply to the specific question on whether it had acquired Pegasus.
At the same time the government doesn’t want to be seen as mothballing a discussion on Pegasus and it may deploy senior leader and defence minister Rajnath Singh to talk to the Opposition and break the deadlock, the sources said.
“Rajnathji could reach out to Kharge and other Opposition leaders on Friday,” a BJP MP said.
However, despite the uproarious protests by the Opposition, the government has been slowly passing bills amid the din without any discussion. On Thursday, the Centre passed two bills in just 23 minutes before the Lok Sabha was adjourned for the day.