Trinamool Congress MPs on Thursday tore papers that were reportedly Information Technology minister’s statement on the Pegasus surveillance row in the Rajya Sabha, reported PTI.
Ashwini Vaishnaw could not complete his statement and instead laid a copy of it on the table of the House. Vaishnaw alleged that the surveillance allegations were over the top, according to the Hindustan Times. “These allegations have been dismissed in the past by all parties involved, including the Supreme Court,” he said even as opposition parties protested. “There is no factual basis to these allegations.”
Trinamool Congress MPs shouted slogans and flung the torn papers in the air. TMC MP Shantanu Sen snatched the paper from Vaishnaw when he tried to speak. Following this, Union minister Hardeep Singh Puri and Sen exchanged heated words.
Later, another TMC MP Sukhendu Sekhar Roy evaded a question on the TMC snatching papers and disrupting Vaishnaw’s speech.
Deputy Chairman Harivansh urged members to desist from unparliamentary behaviour, before adjourning the proceedings of the House for the rest of the day.
Earlier in the day, Congress leaders too cornered the government in both Houses of Parliament over the surveillance row. Both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha were repeatedly adjourned because of protests by the opposition party.
“One can only ask for clarification if the statement is given and government is doing the same,” said Mallikarjun Kharge, the leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha, according to ANI. “Not all members will be able to speak. It is an attempt to scuttle down and save themselves and not allowing other members to speak [on the Pegasus issue].”
On Sunday, a leaked list of 50,000 potential targets of the spyware, “concentrated in countries known to engage in surveillance of their citizens” was released. The list was accessed by Paris-based media nonprofit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International, which shared it with 17 news organisations as part of the Pegasus Project.
The spyware is developed, marketed and licensed to governments around the world by the Israeli cyber intelligence company NSO Group. The company said that it licenses its software only to “vetted governments” and that Pegasus is meant to be targeted at criminals.
On Monday, Information Technology minister Vaishnaw had dismissed reports about the use of the Pegasus hacking software to spy on journalists, activists and Opposition leaders. He had said that with checks and balances in place, illegal surveillance was not possible in India.
The Congress had hit out at the Centre on Monday for the alleged snooping after The Wire confirmed that Rahul Gandhi was also among the potential targets of the Pegasus software. The party demanded an inquiry into the prime minister’s role in the alleged surveillance and the sacking of Home Minister Amit Shah.
The Wire reported that at least two mobile phone accounts that Gandhi used were among the 300 Indian numbers listed as potential targets of a client of the NSO in India. Gandhi’s numbers, which he is not using anymore, were reportedly selected for targeting from mid-2018 to mid-2019, when the general elections took place.