Trinamool Congress MP Shantanu Sen was suspended from the Rajya Sabha on Friday for the remaining period of the Monsoon Session, reported PTI. This came a day after he snatched and tore the statement being read out by Information Technology Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw on the Pegasus scandal.
Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs V Muraleedharan moved a motion for Sen’s suspension as soon as the House convened. The motion was passed by a voice vote and Rajya Sabha Chairperson M Venkaiah Naidu asked Sen to leave the House.
“I’m deeply distressed by the course of events in the House,” Naidu said, according to the Hindustan Times. “Unfortunately, proceedings of the House hit a new low with papers being snatched from the minister and torn into pieces. Such actions are a clear assault on our Parliamentary democracy.”
The TMC members objected to the manner in which the motion was introduced without listing it in the day’s business. Party leaders Derek O’Brien and Sukendu Sekhar Roy urged Naidu to let Sen speak about the incident.
Several leaders of Opposition, including Jairam Ramesh, Tiruchi Shiva, Sukhendu Ray and Anand Sharma, also met Naidu to discuss the incident, NDTV reported.
On Thursday, the situation was tense in the Rajya Sabha as the Opposition and the government engaged in heated exchanges. As soon as Vaishnaw rose to speak on reports alleging that the Pegasus spyware could have been used to snoop on Opposition leaders, activists and journalists, Sen snatched his papers and tore them.
A leaked database of over 50,000 numbers, potential targets of surveillance, was first accessed by Paris-based non-profit Forbidden Stories and rights advocacy group Amnesty International. It became the basis of a global investigation called the Pegasus Project in which 17 media organisations collaborated. The Wire from India is among the participants in the project.
In India, prominent names on the list of potential targets included Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, Union ministers Prahlad Patel and Ashwini Vaishnaw, election strategist Prashant Kishor, virologist Gagandeep Kang and Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
Several opposition parties, including the Trinamool Congress, have sought to corner the Centre on the snooping allegations in Parliament as well as outside.
On Wednesday, TMC chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said that she has taped over her phone’s camera to avoid getting spied upon. She has accused the Bharatiya Janata Party of trying to turn India from a democracy into a “surveillance state”, and urged all Opposition leaders to unite against the saffron party.
Responding to allegations of snooping, Vaishnaw, who himself happens to be on the list, said on Monday that illegal surveillance was not possible in India.
The government, however, has not yet categorically denied using the Pegasus spyware on Indian citizens. Notably, NSO has stressed that it sells the spyware only to “vetted governments”.
The matter has now reached the Supreme Court, with an advocate having filed a petition seeking a court-monitored probe into the alleged surveillance. Petitioner ML Sharma said the alleged snooping by the Pegasus spyware was a serious attack on Indian democracy. He added that the potential attacks posed a risk to national security.