Following her meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee demanded a Supreme Court-monitored inquiry into allegations that the Pegasus spyware was used to spy on politicians, journalists and activists in India, ANI reported. Banerjee also said that the prime minister should call an all-party meeting to discuss the matter.
On Monday, Banerjee’s West Bengal government had formed a two-member panel to investigate these allegations. Trinamool Congress MP and the chief minister’s nephew, Abhishek Banerjee, is one of those potentially targeted by the spyware.
Earlier on Tuesday, Banerjee called upon Modi at the prime minister’s residence in what she referred to as a “courtesy meeting”. This was their first meeting since the West Bengal election in April-May.
Banerjee told reporters after the meeting that she spoke to the prime minister about the pandemic situation in the country and demanded more vaccines and medicines for West Bengal.
Banerjee also said that the prime minister has assured her that he would look into the proposal of changing the official name of the state of West Bengal. In 2018, the West Bengal Assembly had passed a resolution to change the state’s name to “Bangla”. In March 2020, Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai had said that the central government had received the proposal.
Banerjee’s visit to the national Capital is being seen as an important one in view of Opposition unity ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. She met Congress leaders Kamal Nath and Anand Sharma on Tuesday morning. Congress President Sonia Gandhi has invited her for a meeting on Wednesday, while she will meet her Delhi counterpart Arvind Kejriwal on Thursday, NDTV reported.
The West Bengal chief minister told reporters that she also wanted to meet President Ram Nath Kovind but might not be able to do so as his officials have asked for a negative RT-PCR test report.
The spyware is licensed to governments around the world by the Israeli cyber intelligence company NSO Group. The company insists that it licences its software only to “vetted governments” with good human-rights records and that Pegasus is intended to target criminals.
But a leaked list, featuring more than 50,000 phone numbers “concentrated in countries known to engage in surveillance of their citizens”, was accessed by Paris-based media nonprofit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International. It became the basis of a global investigation called the Pegasus Project in which 17 media organisations collaborated.
The list of potential targets in India features over 40 journalists, two Union ministers, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, former Election Commissioner of India Ashok Lavasa and a former Supreme Court staffer who accused former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi of sexual harassment. Industrialist Anil Ambani and former Central Bureau of Investigation Director Alok Verma are also among the potential targets.