Union minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi on Sunday criticised the Congress for disrupting Parliament because of the Pegasus surveillance controversy, saying that the party was the “James Bond of spying” when it was in power, PTI reported.

Since the Monsoon Session of Parliament convened on July 19, the Congress and Opposition parties have been protesting against the alleged use of Israeli-made Pegasus spyware by central agencies to monitor politicians, journalists and activists in the country. The Opposition has been demanding a discussion and an independent investigation led by a Supreme Court judge into the matter.

In an interview to PTI on Sunday, Naqvi, who is also the deputy leader of the House in the Rajya Sabha, claimed that the Opposition was not interested in discussing people-related matters.

“They [the Opposition] first said that we want a discussion on corona [virus] but then later did not agree to it,” Naqvi claimed. “They said we want a discussion on farmers and then did not agree on that. There has been the problem of floods in various parts of the country, they are not showing any interest in that also or on the price rise issue that they talk about.”

Instead of focusing on all this, the minister said, the Opposition wanted to discuss “a fake and fabricated” matter like Pegasus scandal. “Without wasting time, IT Minister [Ashwini Vaishnaw] had made a statement and they had an opportunity to get a clarification in Rajya Sabha,” Naqvi told PTI. “But instead of taking a clarification they created a ruckus and adopted a violent attitude.”

Vaishnaw, one of the potential targets of the surveillance, had said in Parliament that there was no substance to the reports of spying. But, he refused to state categorically that India has not used Pegasus spyware.

Naqvi said that the Congress was trying to “hijack” other parties and propagate “its own negative attitude as that of the Opposition”.

“These people [Congress] were the James Bond of spying [when in power],” Naqvi told PTI. “They spin a web of spying when in government and when in Opposition create a hullabaloo alleging surveillance.”

He added: “In the UPA [United Progressive Alliance] time, their own finance minister had accused his government of spying on him.”

He was purportedly referring to reports of former Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee accusing the then Union Home Minister P Chidambaram of phone tapping.

The Pegasus row

The alleged misuse of Pegasus came to light earlier this month when Paris-based media nonprofit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International accessed a database featuring more than 50,000 phone numbers “concentrated in countries known to engage in surveillance of their citizens”.

They shared the list with Indian news website The Wire and 16 other media organisations across the world, who did extensive reporting on the matter. Their investigation is called the Pegasus Project

The India list 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 were also potential targets of surveillance.

The participants in the Pegasus investigation have repeatedly clarified that not all the people on the list were successfully spied on but were potential targets of surveillance. Only a forensic analysis of a device can determine if it was infiltrated or subjected to a hack.

A Supreme Court Bench led by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana will on August 5 hear a petition seeking an independent inquiry into the allegations of surveillance. The plea was filed by former editor of The Hindu N Ram and chairperson of the Asian College of Journalism Sashi Kumar.

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