The Congress Saturday launched an all-out attack on the government, accusing it of deceiving Parliament, duping the Supreme Court, hijacking democracy and indulging in treason, after a media report claimed India bought the Pegasus spyware from Israel as part of a defence deal in 2017.
The Congress said it intends to raise the issue in the budget session starting next week, and demand accountability from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP government on the floor of Parliament.
The principal opposition party also urged the Supreme Court to take suo motu cognisance of the matter and initiate appropriate penal proceedings against the government for attempting to “deliberately and knowingly deceive” it.
With the Congress making its intention clear, the shadow of the Pegasus issue looms large again over the 2022 budget session as the entire Monsoon session of 2021 was washed out after the Opposition had jointly stalled the proceedings over the issue.
According to a report in The New York Times, the Israeli spyware Pegasus and a missile system were the “centrepieces” of a roughly $2-billion (roughly Rs. 15,000 crores) deal of sophisticated weapons and intelligence gear between India and Israel in 2017.
Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi accused the government of treason by allegedly “tapping” phones of opposition leaders, armed forces and the judiciary using the Pegasus spyware.
“The 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,” Gandhi said on Twitter.
“The Modi Government has committed treason,” he alleged.
Addressing a press conference here on the matter, Congress general secretary and chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala alleged the Modi government “deceived” Parliament as well as “duped” the Supreme Court.
He said the BJP machinery engaged in a massive strategy to also “dupe” the people of the country as it is now clear that the government led by Prime Minister Modi “purchased the illegal and unconstitutional” spyware from Israel and used it against opposition leaders, the judiciary, the media, and even its own functionaries.
He alleged the government used public money to illegally purchase the cyber tool and spy upon its own people, and thus “hijacked” democracy. They committed an act of treason ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, he alleged.
“It is now very clear that Parliament was deceived by the Modi government, the Supreme Court was also duped and the people of India were lied to by the Modi government and its ministers,” Surjewala said, adding these things being clear now, the role of the prime minister and his responsibility is now directly in question.
“We will seek accountability from the prime minister on the floor of the Parliament, along with that of the government in the people’s court,” he said.
“We will urge upon the Supreme Court to suo motu now take note and issue appropriate penal proceedings against this government for attempting to deliberately and knowingly deceive the Supreme Court,” Surjewala said.
“It is treason, it is hijack of democracy and it is a systematic deception and attack on the fundamental rights of privacy and dismantling of national security considering who all were spied upon illegally and unconstitutionally by this government,” he alleged.
Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, who joined him at the press conference, said when the government was “not ready to discuss the issue of Pegasus on our demand (during Monsoon Session of Parliament last year), it shows that they wanted to hide something from the people of the country.” The money belongs to the public but these people are using it for snooping on people who are opposing them, he alleged.
Kharge said if the government was doing it for the safety and security of the country, it was fine, but “they are using it against Opposition leaders, ministers and government functionaries, the judiciary and the media”.
“They spoke a lie in Parliament,” he alleged.
“If the government has courage, it should file a defamation suit against New York Times, which has published the report stating that the government had purchased the spyware. The truth has now come out,” Kharge said.
Asked whether they will seek a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe again, the LOP said, “We will see what kind of probe needs to be done, we will discuss. We have raised this issue earlier too, and we will raise this issues in Parliament now”.
Surjewala earlier alleged that the defence budget of National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) reporting to the NSA went up from Rs 33 Crore to Rs 333 Crore in 2017-18.
He said that after the report, it is now clear that Modi government purchased the Pegasus spyware in 2017 and other military technology as the “centrepieces” of a package including “weapons and intelligence gear worth roughly $2 billion” from Israel during PM Modi’s visit.
“The Modi government is the deployer and executor of the illegal and unconstitutional snooping and spying racket through Israeli surveillance spyware Pegasus and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is himself involved,” he said.
“This is a brazen hijack of democracy and an act of treason,” the Congress leader alleged.
The government had denied all allegations when the Opposition was.