Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday said Opposition leaders needed answers related to the controversy about the use of the Pegasus software to allegedly spy on politicians, government officials and journalists, reported ANI.
At least 10 Opposition parties met in Delhi earlier on Wednesday to plan how they would question the Centre in Parliament, reported the Hindustan Times.
Both Houses of Parliament have so far had disruptive sessions as the Opposition has repeatedly questioned the Centre about the alleged Pegasus hacking, farmers protests and the administration’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis. The Monsoon Session of Parliament began on July 19 and will end on August 13.
“Has the government of India bought Pegasus? Yes or No,” Gandhi said in a joint media briefing of Opposition parties, according to ANI. “Did the government use Pegasus weapon against its own people? We have been told clearly by the government that no discussion will take place on Pegasus in the House.”
Gandhi said that use of Pegasus software was a concern for the Opposition as it “is a matter related to nationalism and treason”.
“For me, it’s not a matter of privacy,” the Congress MP added. “I see it as an anti-national act. Narendra Modi and Amit Shahji have attacked [the] soul of India’s democracy. We want to know from Narendra Modi and Amit Shah – why you used this weapon [Pegasus spyware] against India’s democratic institutions?”
At the press conference, Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut said that the Opposition will remain united on the matters of national security and farm laws, reported ANI.
Among the parties that were present at the meeting on Wednesday were the Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party, the National Conference, and the Muslim League, the Revolutionary Socialist Party, the Kerala Congress, the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi from Tamil Nadu and the Samajwadi Party, reported NDTV.
Gandhi, who has confirmed that his phone was hacked, along with other leaders of opposition parties will on Wednesday submit a joint adjournment motion in the Lok Sabha for a discussion on the Pegasus spyware row. The politicians asked for the discussions to be held when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and/or Union Home minister Amit Shah are present in Parliament, according to the Hindustan Times.
“We do not want to compromise on the issues of inflation, Pegasus, and farmers’ issues,” Gandhi said after a meeting with the Opposition leaders, according to ANI. “We want [a] discussion in the House.”
Gandhi reportedly said during the meeting that the Centre was defaming the Opposition with the claim that the parties were not allowing Parliament proceedings to occur.
Gandhi tweeted a photo of the meeting, with the caption: “Sitting with the entire opposition is extremely humbling. Amazing experience, wisdom and insight in everyone present.”
Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting Anurag Thakur said that the Congress and the Trinamool Congress’ MPs tried to disrupt the Parliament proceedings on Wednesday. “They can register their protest but that too has a limit,” he told ANI. “They threw papers on Speaker, ministers and even at media gallery and showed placards. Why is Opposition running away from discussions?”
Seven Opposition parties had on Tuesday appealed to President Ram Nath Kovind to direct the central government to discuss in Parliament the matters of the agriculture laws and alleged surveillance. The Akali Dal, the Nationalist Congress Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the National Conference, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India and the Rashtriya Lok Dal were among the parties that sought Kovind’s intervention in the matter.
The central government has said it is ready to discuss anything except the Pegasus spyware allegations. But the Opposition has repeatedly insisted on taking up the matter first.
What is the Pegasus hacking controversy?
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.
However, 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. The first reports on the list were published a day before the Monsoon Session of the Parliament began on July 19.
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.