Members of the Opposition parties on Saturday castigated the Union government over The New York Times report, which stated that India bought Israeli spyware Pegasus in 2017 as part of a $2-billion (approximately Rs 15,000 crore) defence package.

The report mentioned that the spyware, which was allegedly used to spy on politicians, journalists and politicians in India, was the centrepiece of the package along with a missile system.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said on Twitter that the Narendra Modi government “has committed treason”.

“Modi Govt bought Pegasus to spy on our primary democratic institutions, politicians and public,” Gandhi said. “Govt functionaries, opposition leaders, armed forces, judiciary all were targeted by these phone tappings.”

Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala, addressing a press conference, said that the alleged use of Pegasus by the Centre was a “brazen hijack of democracy and an act of treason”.

“It is no coincidence that the budget of National Security Council Secretariat, which reports to NSA [National Security Advisor], suddenly went up from Rs 33 crore to Rs 333 crore in the year 2017-2018,” he said.

Surjewala added that the Modi government had misled the Supreme Court and referred to a statement from an affidavit by the Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology that denied all allegations against the government.

The Congress spokesperson said that the party will discuss the matter with leaders of other Opposition parties and strategise to raise the matter in Parliament in the next few days.

The Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge questioned the Modi government’s use of a warfare weapon against Indian citizens. “Illegal snooping using Pegasus amounts to treason,” Kharge said. “No one is above the law and we will ensure that justice is served.”

Shiv Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi alleged that the Pegasus spyware was used not for defence purposes, but to spy on the opposition and journalists.

“The BJP makes it possible, it has turned the country into a Bigg Boss show,” she said.

Bharatiya Janata Party leader and Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy also urged the Modi government to respond to the allegations. “This [report] implies prima facie our Govt misled Supreme Court and Parliament. Watergate?” he said on Twitter.

In recent months, Swamy has censured senior BJP leaders and the central government over petrol prices and the Centre’s economic and foreign policy. In October, the BJP dropped him from the party’s national executive.

Allegations on Pegasus

In July, several media organisations across the world had reported on the use of Pegasus, which has been developed by the NSO Group. In India, The Wire had reported that 161 Indians were spied on using Pegasus.

The NSO Group has said that the spyware can only be sold to “vetted governments”.

Opposition leaders in India had protested vociferously against allegations of illegal surveillance, and pleas were filed in the Supreme Court against the government.

The top court, in turn, had set up a panel to look into the allegations. Its inquiry is ongoing.

The government in August and September had fought off criticism following the media exposés, claiming the reports about Pegasus were “conspiracies”, and that it had been brought up to “derail India’s growth” and as revenge for India’s supposedly efficient handling of the coronavirus pandemic.