The Opposition has been insisting on a discussion on the Pegasus surveillance controversy in Parliament since the matter is vital for the survival of democracy and fundamental rights, Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, told The Hindu on Tuesday.

Kharge said the Opposition intended to keep Parliament running and discuss matters such as the Pegasus row, farm laws, the Covid-19 crisis and inflation.

“In all our party meeting[s] also, the agenda was to give priority to these issues,” Kharge said. “When we give the notice under Rule 267 [of the Rajya Sabha], they [the Centre] could have simply fixed the time.” Rule 267 gives the provision for a Rajya Sabha member to request the chairman to suspend matters listed out for discussion on a particular day in order to deliberate upon a separate topic.

However, on Wednesday, the Lok Sabha ended two days ahead of the scheduled end of the Monsoon Session on August 13. The Rajya Sabha may also be adjourned sine die (with no appointed date for resumption) later in the day, according to some reports.

Kharge also explained why the Opposition prioritised a discussion on the Pegasus controversy over other matters.

“If I lose my freedom of expressions, my privacy, then what remains?” he asked. “If that freedom is there, only then I can about talk farmers or other issues affecting the country. They [the government] are taking and threatening the Opposition leaders, spying on people in the Army, even judges were not spared.”

Kharge also accused the Centre of stalling discussions on Pegasus in Parliament so that the Opposition continued its protests. This helped the government rush through Bills in Parliament, he alleged.

The Lok Sabha had on Monday passed three important Bills without discussion. These were the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order (Amendment) Bill, the Deposit Insurance and Credit Guarantee Corporation (Amendment) Bill and the Limited Liability Partnership (Amendment) Bill.

“As soon as you say Pegasus, they [the Centre] say, no, no, that is a different issue,” Kharge told The Hindu. “Now for 16-17 days, the House is in session but not one day has the home minister or the prime minister stepped in or discussed with all the Opposition parties.”

Also read: Pegasus raises dark questions about the Supreme Court and judicial independence

The Pegasus controversy

The allegations that Israeli software Pegasus could have been used to spy on several politicians, journalists and activists in the country have triggered a huge political row.

Opposition parties have been demanding that the Centre discuss the matter in Parliament. They have staged protests and shouted slogans during the sessions, leading to multiple disruptions in both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha on a daily basis.

The government has, meanwhile, refused to entertain a discussion on the matter. In response to a question, the defence ministry told the Parliament earlier this week that it did not have any transaction with Pegasus maker NSO Group. However, the government has not stated categorically that it did not procure and use the spyware.

The accusations came to light last month through an investigative project involving Paris-based media nonprofit Forbidden Stories, Amnesty International and 17 media organisations from across the world, including Indian news website The Wire

The potential targets of surveillance in India included over 40 journalists, two Union ministers, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, former Election Commissioner of India Ashok Lavasa, former Supreme Court judge Arun Mishra and the woman who accused former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi of sexual harassment, among others.

The Editors Guild of India, former editor of The Hindu N Ram and Asian College of Journalism Chairperson Sashi Kumar, Rajya Sabha MP John Brittas, advocate ML Sharma and several journalists have filed petitions seeking inquiry in the Supreme Court.