Pegasus revelations overshadow opening of Indian parliament

Indian opposition parties accuse government of misleading Indian parliament over its spyware use

Related video: Pegasus spyware: How does it work?

Revelations about India’s alleged purchase of Pegasus in 2017 rocked its parliament on Monday as main opposition parties cornered the Narendra Modi-led government and accused it of misleading the House over its spyware use.

A New York Times report claimed on Friday that India bought Pegasus in 2017 as part of a larger arms deal with Israel.

Access to the military-grade software that is produced by the NSO Group was part of a “package of sophisticated weapons and intelligence gear worth roughly $2 billion” between India and Israel, the report said.

“The combination of Israel’s search for influence and NSO’s drive for profits has also led to the powerful spying tool ending up in the hands of a new generation of nationalist leaders worldwide,” the report said.

“Though the Israeli government’s oversight was meant to prevent the powerful spyware from being used in repressive ways, Pegasus has been sold to Poland, Hungary and India, despite those countries’ questionable records on human rights,” it revealed.

On Monday, Indian opposition parties said they will move parliamentary motions accusing the government of providing misleading information on the controversial spyware.

The Lok Sabha, or the lower house of Parliament, was adjourned till Tuesday.

Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, leader of the opposition of the Indian National Congress in parliament’s lower house, said: “This government is misleading the House, the Supreme Court, the people... as opposition, it’s our responsibility to raise this issue.”

Another opposition party, the Trinamool Congress, said it will move a similar motion in the budget session of parliament.

Mallikarjun Kharge, a senior Congress leader, tweeted: “Why did Modi Govt act like the enemies of India and use a warfare weapon against Indian citizens? Illegal snooping using Pegasus amounts to treason. No one is above the law and we will ensure that justice is served.”

He told a press conference that the Modi government has been “caught lying to Parliament that they had nothing to do with Pegasus and never bought the spyware from NSO group”.

Accusing the government of misleading the Supreme Court too, he said: “We will ensure that those guilty will be held accountable and raise this vociferously in Parliament.”

Local reports said that the Congress will reach out to other Opposition parties to formulate a joint strategy.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted: “Modi Government bought Pegasus to spy on our primary democratic institutions, politicians and public. Government functionaries, opposition leaders, armed forces, judiciary all were targeted by these phone tappings. This is treason. The Modi Government has committed treason.”

Trinamool Congress leader Sukhendu Sekhar Roy was quoted as saying by the Indian Express: “We strongly believe…(it’s) a factual representation of the purchase of the spyware by the Indian Government from Israel. The telephone of our party’s national general secretary Abhishek Bandhopadhyay, his secretary’s phone, were tapped.”

Political party Shiv Sena said that the opposition stood vindicated. Party leader Sanjay Raut said: “What we had said when the Pegasus issue came to light last year…be it Rahul Gandhi, other leaders, all of us, inside and outside Parliament, we repeatedly tried to bring out facts and evidence regarding it. That all of us are under surveillance.”

“Not just us, many of the senior leaders of the BJP are also under watch. The chief minister of UP is also under surveillance. Everybody knows that…We know what is happening. The bank accounts of our family members are being scrutinised. Who will listen to us?  Is this democracy? This is a cheap form of dictatorship,” he said.

General secretary of CPM Sitaram Yechury said the Modi government must explain in an affidavit why it bought the spyware and “who gave permission for its usage, how were the targets selected and who got these reports.”

NCP leader Majeed Memon said: “This kind of a secret deal by the Government of India would certainly invite suspicious queries as to whether this undercover deal of purchase of Pegasus in 2017 from Israel was in national interest or was it for other considerations.”

He added that the “government is in the dock to explain why Parliament was also kept uninformed about such a deal and unless a strong case of national security is made by the MHA such deals on the face of it would appear to be dubious”.

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