New Delhi: Hours after the publication of the latest list of public figures who were allegedly targeted using the Pegasus spy software, Opposition parties hit out at the Narendra Modi government accusing it of “anti-national” acts and “treason”. Opposition leaders such as Congress’ Rahul Gandhi and Trinamool Congress’ Abhishek Banerjee and political strategist Prashant Kishor are among the 300 people on the list.
In a press conference Monday, Randeep Singh Surjewala, chief spokesperson of the Congress said the BJP now stands for ‘Bharatiya Jasoosi Party’.
“Is spying on Indian journalists, ministers and Opposition leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, through foreign spyware, not treason? Is it not an inexcusable dismantling of national security?” he asked.
He further questioned what purpose the government was serving by allegedly spying on Gandhi.
“What kind of terror and crime are you (PM Modi) fighting by spying on Rahul Gandhi?” Surjewala asked. “Modi government is anti-national and has compromised national security by snooping on Rahul Gandhi and other opposition leaders, journalists and officials,” he said.
At least two mobile phone numbers that were being used by Rahul Gandhi figured among the 300 verified Indian numbers that were listed as potential targets, according to news reports published by a global media consortium. The list also allegedly includes numbers of five friends and acquaintances of Rahul Gandhi.
On Sunday, an expose by a global consortium of media organisations revealed that Israeli company NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware was used to allegedly bug 300 mobile phone numbers in India. These included numbers of two serving Union ministers, three Opposition leaders, one constitutional authority, current and former heads of security organisations, administrators and 40 senior journalists and activists.
Other Congress leaders, including the party’s leader of Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge and leader of Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, who were also present at the press conference, demanded Home Minister Amit Shah’s resignation.
“Amit Shah sahab should resign and there should be an inquiry into the role of PM Modi in this snooping. This is important in order to uphold the norms of democracy,” Kharge said.
The BJP, meanwhile, hit out at the Congress for its attack on the central government and claimed there is not a “shred of evidence” to link either the ruling party or the Modi government with the Pegasus ‘snooping’ controversy.
TMC demands Modi and Shah address Parliament
Trinamool Congress’ Abhishek Banerjee, the nephew of West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, was also on the list.
Derek O’Brien of the TMC said that the “Gujarat model of 2002 is becoming the 2021 India model”.
“The Parliament is in session. The PM, and the Home Minister, they can’t find the bakra in the new IT minister who is trying to answer questions. The PM and HM have to answer the hard questions,” O’Brien also told NDTV.
O’Brien further said the Trinamool will be taking up this issue in Parliament, and expects the PM and the home minister to respond to the allegations.
Prashant Kishor, who had worked with the Trinamool ahead of the 2021 Bengal assembly polls, reportedly told NDTV that he has changed his “handset five times, but the hacking continues”.
The phone of a close aide of Kishor was also allegedly targeted, but was not available for a forensic analysis, which means hacking could not be confirmed, the media consortium said.
BJP condemns ‘baseless’ comments
Addressing a press conference Monday, senior BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad brushed aside a question on the Congress’ demands for Home Minister Amit Shah’s resignation and a probe against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and accused the opposition party of hitting a “new low” in making baseless allegations in a manner that was bereft of any political propriety.
With the Congress “shrinking and losing”, the entire row is timed to disrupt Parliament and build a baseless agenda, he said.
“The BJP strongly refutes and condemns the baseless and bereft of political propriety comments levelled by Congress against the BJP. This is a new low in the political discourse of a party that has ruled India for over 50 years,” he said.
“Our IT Minister confirmed today that for lawful interceptions of electronic communication can only be made as per relevant rules under provisions of Sec 5(2) of Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 & Sec 69 of Information Technology Act 2000. Any form of illegal surveillance isn’t possible with checks & balances in our laws & robust institutions.”
(Edited by Paramita Ghosh)