The government, particularly External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, has come under fire for asserting that United States’ surveillance activities did not amount to “snooping” and it was “only computer analysis of patterns of calls and e-mails sent.”
From the left and the right of the political spectrum, from supporters of a “special” India-U.S. relationship to its critics, there was an almost unanimous view that the government had gone too far to “appease the U.S.”
Bharatiya Janata Party leader Ravi Shankar Prasad told The Hindu that the Government of India must “come clean” and share all available facts with the rest of the political parties. “Any surveillance of Indian systems is uncalled for. The BJP is for good relations with U.S., but our sovereignty and self-respect is non-negotiable.” Mr. Prasad rejected the distinction between surveillance and snooping as fiction, and pointed to the “palpable disconnect between different ministers.”
Terming U.S. actions “cyber-driven invasion of sovereignty,” CPM Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat told The Hindu: “This is a craven statement of a craven minister of a craven government. Even the allies are objecting, but this government is justifying what is a clearly illegal act, in violation of U.N. conventions.”
Even UPA allies seemed a bit uneasy with the current approach, though they refrained from offering outright criticism. D.P. Tripathi of the Nationalist Congress Party said, “The government should take this up at a diplomatic level. It must also create a strategy against any possible cyber surveillance. This has not been done yet.”
In a statement, the Aam Aadmi Party said Mr. Khurshid’s statement showed the government’s “subservience to the U.S. and its contempt and disregard for civil liberties and citizen’s rights to privacy.” It rejected the contention that the surveillance had helped prevent terror attacks.
Strategic affairs expert Commodore (retd.) C. Uday Bhaskar, a supporter of strong India-U.S. ties, pointed to the “clear disconnect between the Minister and the Ministry.” The MEA spokesperson has expressed dismay and concern when initial reports of U.S. surveillance had emerged. “This government is in dire need of strategic communication within South Block.”
Turning to the substantive aspect, Commodore Bhaskar said, “Keeping tabs on embassies is par for the course, but what is new is the degree of American intrusion because of their qualitatively advanced technological capabilities.” He said there was little doubt the government was “playing it down,” in an effort to “accommodate the U.S.”
Pushpesh Pant, a retired professor of international diplomacy at Jawaharlal Nehru University, was more scathing. “Mr. Khurshid is being much more economical than truth than is acceptable in a democracy, and crawling when asked to bend. The simple fact is the surveillance was unauthorised and thus illegal.” Such surveillance gave the Americans an “unfair advantage” in bilateral negotiations between allies, he said.
“Look at the double standards,” Mr. Pant added. “The U.S. wants to apply international law when it comes to extradition of Snowden, and violates provisions of customary as well as international treaty law when it comes to state sovereignty.”
Civil liberties activist Nandita Haksar said that at a time when the rest of the world, including European Union, was taking U.S. to task, India was standing up for it. “As an Indian, it makes me very sad that a trained lawyer who is our foreign minister and would understand issues has taken such a stand.”
She also flagged the silence of the Indian intelligentsia and civil liberties groups. “Are we even aware of the consequences of being subject to such surveillance? If this has helped stop terrorist attacks, the government must tell is how many and which ones. This is an issue of privacy, sovereignty, human rights,” she said.