The Congress will offer constructive support to build a united Opposition against the Bharatiya Janata Party in the run up to the 2024 Lok Saba elections, senior party leader Mallikarjun Kharge said, The Indian Express reported on Monday.
Speaking with the newspaper, Kharge, who is the Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, added that the Congress will fight future elections together with other political parties.
“The Congress always plays a positive role, proactive role,” he said. “In Parliament, we took everybody with us. All parties cooperated. That is why we succeeded in explaining issues like Covid and Pegasus to the people.”
Kharge added that Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has been speaking to leaders of other Opposition parties personally.
Punjab political crisis
The Congress veteran asserted that the crisis in the party unit in Punjab has been resolved, and there were no tensions between Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and state party chief Navjot Singh Sidhu.
Kharge said that Singh was a senior leader who “puts a lot of thought into what he says”. He also described Sidhu as an enthusiastic leader who is working towards strengthening the party.
The Punjab unit of the Congress had been thrown into a crisis following a rift between Singh and Sidhu, who had been demanding a more prominent role in the Congress.
On July 18, the Congress appointed Sidhu the chief of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee. Before the appointment, Singh and Sidhu had been publicly criticising each other for months.
Commenting on the Pegasus surveillance allegations, Kharge accused the prime minister and home minister of wreaking havoc, and said that the matter “is a danger for the country and democracy”.
The NSO Group of Israel is at the centre of allegations that its spyware was used to conduct surveillance on several politicians, journalists and activists around the world, including India. The company’s spyware, Pegasus, is only licensed to vetted governments.
To a question on whether he asked Congress governments if they used the spyware, the leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha claimed that when the NSO Group spoke about its dealings with the government, it was referring to the Centre.
Kharge was asked by The Indian Express whether the Congress could confirm that the spyware was not used by intelligence departments in states where it was in power. “How can I say that?” the Congress leader responded. “All states have different intelligence systems. But this is directly linked to them [the Centre].”
Kharge also noted that the names of many minsters and heads of several institutions have come up during the allegations, and asked whether any state government can carry out such surveillance.
The alleged misuse of the Pegasus spyware was revealed in July 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 as part of the Pegasus Project.
The Indian part of the list includes phone numbers used by at least 40 Indian journalists, Opposition leaders including Congress MP Rahul Gandhi, two Union ministers and virologist Gagandeep Kang. Former Election Commissioner of India Ashok Lavasa and an ex-Supreme Court staffer who accused former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi of sexual harassment also featured on the list.
Referring to the recently-concluded Monsoon Session of Parliament, Kharge said that it was the responsibility of the Central government to ensure that the House functions, adding that the government failed to carry out its duties.
The Monsoon Session saw several disruptions as the government and the Opposition reached an impasse over the Pegasus surveillance allegations and the farm laws.
Kharge said that the Congress and at least 15 other opposition parties had decided to raise four matters – Pegasus, the farm laws, the novel coronavirus and inflation.
“We gave many notices on these issues but all of them were rejected,” Kharge said. “When we were raising the Pegasus issue, and pointing out that it was a violation of basic fundamental rights, it was called disruption.”