Pegasus spyware issue: Cong seeks probe

NEW DELHI, 19 Jul: Accusing the government of “treason” and compromising on national security over the Pegasus spyware issue, the Congress on Monday demanded the sacking of Home Minister Amit Shah and a probe into “the role of Prime Minister Narendra Modi” in the entire matter.

Addressing a joint press conference here with other party leaders, Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala held Shah responsible for the Pegasus spying issue and said the opposition party’s first demand is his immediate dismissal.

He said the Congress will take all opposition parties onboard over the issue and decide on whether to ask for a judicial or a parliamentary probe in the matter.

“The person responsible for deployment of this illegal spyware Pegasus is no less than the home minister, who must be sacked,” he said. “Our first demand is the immediate sacking of Minister of Home and Internal Security Amit Shah and a probe into the role of the prime minister in the matter.”

Leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge said Shah should immediately resign as he “does not deserve” to occupy the position he holds.

Kharge alleged that the government has not only attacked freedom of speech but also the fundamental rights of people, including judges, journalists, opposition leaders, ministers and activists.

Kharge said the Congress along with other opposition parties will raise the issue strongly in Parliament.

Leader of Congress in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said, “Modiji promotes digital India, but what we are seeing is surveillance India.”

The Congress also asked a set of questions to the prime minister, including as to why Home Minister Shah, the in-charge of the country’s internal security, should not be sacked immediately.

“Does this not warrant a full investigation into the role of prime minister, home minister and others involved?” the party asked.

Accusing the Modi government of murdering the constitution, rule of law and dismantling national security, Surjewala said the dispensation was guilty of “treason.”

“The Modi government is the deployer and executor of this illegal and unconstitutional snooping and spying racket through Israeli surveillance software Pegasus,” he said.

The government strongly denied any role in the entire matter, with IT and Communications Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw saying the allegations levelled just ahead of the monsoon session of Parliament are aimed at maligning Indian democracy.

In a suo moto statement in Lok Sabha, Vaishnaw said that, with several checks and balances being in place, “any sort of illegal surveillance” by unauthorized persons is not possible in India.

Surjewala, however, continued with his charges.

“The constitution has been trampled upon, the rule of law has been murdered, and the oath of office that the prime minister, the home minister and this government took lies in tatters,” he said.

The Congress leader alleged that former IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad in a reply to a question in Rajya Sabha on 28 November, 2019, had admitted that there are 121 such names where possibly WhatsApp was infected due to the software.

He had also admitted that NSO, the manufacturer of the Pegasus spyware, had been issued notices, the Congress leader said.

“What happened in two years? The minister, the prime minister and the home minister, who is responsible for internal security, should have answered.

“By spying upon their own ministers, journalists and those holding constitutional posts, they have committed an unpardonable sin. Are journalists terrorists and opposition leaders criminals?” he asked.

Surjewala alleged that spying began before the last Lok Sabha polls.

Surjewala also asked as to who in the government “purchased and deployed” the illegal spyware Pegasus from Israeli company NSO.

If the government was aware of the illegal purchase and deployment of the Pegasus spyware since April-May, 2019, why did it chose to stay mum?” he asked.

An international media consortium reported on Sunday that more than 300 verified mobile phone numbers, including of two serving ministers, over 40 journalists, three opposition leaders and one sitting judge, besides scores of businesspersons and activists in India could have been targeted for hacking through an Israeli spyware sold only to government agencies. (PTI)