Use of Pegasus spyware on Opposition leaders, Supreme Court judges, and other civilians is an “act of treason” the Congress said on January 29, reacting to the latest revelations in New York Times , which claims that in July 2017, during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel , the sale of a package of sophisticated weapons and intelligence gear worth $2 billion with Pegasus as its centerpiece was agreed on.
Explained | Pegasus, the spyware that came in via WhatsApp At a press conference, Congress general secretary (communication) Randeep Surjewala and Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge said It was now clear that the Modi government purchased the spyware and Mr. Modi was directly involved in signing the agreement.
“The buck stops at the Prime Minister’s door. The BJP duped Parliament and misled the Supreme Court. They used public money to spy and snoop upon their own people. They hijacked the democracy in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha election. This is an act of treason,” Mr. Surjewala said.
In Parliament, IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw had said that the reports of India’s Pegasus use was “baseless” and “highly sensational”. The Ministry of Home Affairs also denied the purchase of Pegasus to an RTI query.
‘Govt misled SC’
“The Modi government misled the Supreme Court, which directly questioned it on the purchase and use of the questionable software. In its sworn affidavit, the government [represented through the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology] had “unequivocally denied any and all of the allegations made against it,” Mr. Surjewala stated.
To counter these news reports, Home Minister Amit Shah “deployed the usual strategy of false propaganda”. He had called it “report by the disrupters for the obstructers.” BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad had claimed that the reports of India using Pegasus are a “revenge for the way India handled COVID-19, vaccination and more than 75% of population… getting free vaccines.”
The revelations come just two days before the Budget session of Parliament.
Mr. Kharge said the Congress would speak to other Opposition parties and come up with a cohesive strategy on the issue. “During the monsoon session, we raised these very questions. At that time, we were accused of disrupting the session. We asked for a debate but the government refused to speak, obviously because they wanted to hide the truth,” he added.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi alleged the Modi Government “bought” Pegasus to “spy on our primary democratic institutions, politicians and public”.
“Govt functionaries, opposition leaders, armed forces, judiciary all were targeted by these phone tappings. This is treason,” he tweeted. “Modi Govt has committed treason.”
Citing the media report, Congress spokesperson Shama Mohammed said this is “irrefutable proof” that the BJP Government used military grade spyware to snoop on the citizens of India, including former Congress president Rahul Gandhi. There must be accountability, she demanded.
Rajya Sabha MP and senior Congress leader Shaktisinh Gohil alleged that the “revelations” in the report imply that the Government “misled” the Supreme Court and Parliament on the issue.
“Why @narendramodi is silent? It is @PMOIndia’s duty to clarify. New York Times revelations today that It did indeed subscribe by payment from tax payers money of ₹300 crores to spyware Pegasus sold by Israeli NSO company,” he tweeted.
“This implies our Govt misled Supreme Court & Parliament,” Mr. Gohil said.
Youth Congress chief B.V. Srinivas also cited the media report and tweeted, “Hence Proved! Chowkidar Hi Jasoos Hai..”
Reacting to the report, Congress’ deputy leader in Lok Sabha Gaurav Gogoi alleged in a tweet, “PM Modi went to Israel to purchase weapons to counter terrorism and instead used it on his own civilians including journalists, judges, bureaucrats and opposition politicians.”
In a tweet, Shiv Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi alleged the spyware was used not for defence purposes but to snoop on opposition and journalists. “If there is BJP, it is possible. They have made the country into a Bigg Boss show,” she said in a tweet in Hindi.
BJP MP Subramanian Swamy said, “Modi Government must rebut New York Times revelations today that it did indeed subscribe by payment from tax payers money of ₹300 crores to spyware Pegasus sold by Israeli NSO company."
“This implies prima facie our Govt misled Supreme Court and Parliament. Watergate?” he tweeted.
An international investigative consortium had claimed last year that many people including Indian ministers, politicians, activists, businessmen and journalists were potentially targeted by the NSO Group’s phone hacking software.
The Supreme Court had set up a three-member independent expert panel to probe the alleged use of Pegasus for targeted surveillance in India. The Government had denied all allegations made against it in the matter.