Rahul Gandhi is right in demanding Supreme Court-monitored probe into Pegasus

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By: Arun Srivastava

Congress leader Shashi Tharoor not agreeing to a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the Pegasus spyware scandal has come as a rude shock. According to him, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology headed by him will “do its duty” and the subject is “already on the mandate of my committee”.

This is not for the first time demand for the creation of a separate JPC to probe into the Pegasus was made. Earlier JPCs were constituted to probe certain matters. A look at the issues that were probed would make explicit that they were related to one or other parliamentary committee and they could have been probed by the existing parliamentary committees but the JPCs were constituted as the primary motive was to send a strong message that the parliament was deeply concerned of the issue and its national importance.

Asked whether a JPC was warranted, he said: “It is already on the mandate of my committee. Strictly speaking, you don’t need to create a new committee to do something that is already within the mandate of one committee. Yes, they did that on the personal data protection Bill… I don’t see what benefit there is in a JPC when there already is a parliamentary committee. It will have exactly the same rules. The rules of the JPC and the rules of the parliamentary committee are identical. So we are already doing the job.”

There is no denying the fact that Pegasus spyware scandal deserves a thorough probe to expose the nasty design to weaken and disparaging the democratic institution of the country. Naturally, a crime of this nature deserves a special and fixated probe. The government claims that it has done no unauthorised surveillance. What does it imply? Does it imply that surveillance was authorised? Surveillance has taken place and it is still continuing. The question that owes an answer is, who authorised the surveillance. Why the government was reluctant to institute a thorough probe? The nature and magnitude of the operation unravels that it was carried out in utter violation of the ethics and rules.

On its part the government has been desperately trying to wash off its hands of the spy operation. But it cannot abdicate its responsibility of digging out the truth; who did it and at whose directive it was carried out? Tharoor said while one must take the government’s word for it, “but if they are implying that there was authorised surveillance, then they will have to explain on what basis it was authorised”. It sounds abstruse why he was trying to give the benefit of doubt to the Modi government.

Spy agency NSO of Israel has itself clarified that this spyware is to be used only in case of terrorism, then why should anyone accept the Modi government’s word? Narendra Modi must come out with the clinching evidences that all the persons who were spied are terrorists and are involved in criminal activities. Accepting the government’s version would mean endorsing its wrongdoing, the crime. How could a government commit this nature of impropriety? Does the government feel that the persons who were being spied are terrorists and anti-nationals? The government must clarify its stand and perception about these persons.

The entire world knows the present Indian government leaders have been out to trample basic human rights. How the rights activist Stan Swamy was murdered in a cold-blooded manner. It has also been exposed that the computers of the so-called terrorists arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case were compromised on the lines of NSO operation by the NIA at the behest of its political masters. Even the Bombay High Court which has been hearing posthumously the bail matter of Swamy holds the view that he was falsely implicated in the terror case.

The political system of the country has been resorting to coercive mechanism to silence the dissenting voices. But Modi and his government have gone beyond that. Their mission is not to terrorise the dissenter but to crush and finish the democratic institutions. To achieve this the rulers and political elites have been resorting to brutal coercive mechanisms.

Two incidents are worth recalling. Even while the CJI of Supreme Court was cautioning against the misuse of the sedition act, the Haryana police, only a week back, falsely implicated around 500 farmers agitating against the BJP leaders, in the sedition cases and put them in jails.

The second is more horrendous. Paramjeet “Mangal” Singh of village Doodhli Khadar died in the early hours of Thursday at a local hospital. The 28-year-old farmer from a Meerut village died of apparent poisoning under mysterious circumstances three days after his latest questioning by the National Investigation Agency on terror suspicions. His father Ajit Singh said that while releasing Mangal after questioning him on Monday, the NIA had given him “two days” to confess to being an active member of the banned Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF). “My son was first picked up from home by the NIA and Meerut police on July 11 and released after three-four hours of interrogation. Later, the NIA summoned him to its Chandigarh office on July 19 (Monday),” Ajit told reporters.”The NIA personnel told me to ask him to speak the truth. When I told them he had nothing to do with the KLF, they said he had two days to confess.” He said the doctors told him Mangal had suffered “trauma”, and that the police later said he had consumed some sort of poison.

In sharp contrast, Rahul Gandhi without mincing words alleged; “Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah used the Pegasus spyware against India and its institutions, and the only word for this is treason”. He demanded a Supreme Court-monitored probe into the matter. Addressing reporters at Vijay Chowk, he also demanded the resignation of the home minister.

He said; “Pegasus is classified by Israeli as a weapon and that weapon is supposed to be used against terrorists. The prime minister and the home minister have used this weapon against the Indian state and our institutions. They have used it politically, they have used it in Karnataka. The matter has to be investigated. A judicial inquiry monitored by the Supreme Court should be conducted and the home minister must resign”. He even claimed he had been told by security personnel that his conversations were monitored.

It is irony that the BJP and the Modi government have been desperately trying to negate the findings of Amnesty International, which along with 16 other media houses have unearthed the scandal. Only yesterday a ministerial colleague of Modi claimed that Amnesty International had “denied the list” of targets. However within hours Amnesty, the rights watchdog categorically dismissed it and reiterated that it had obtained the list of more than 50,000 cellphone numbers along with the Paris-based journalism non-profit Forbidden Stories and shared it with 16 news organisations.

In a statement it said; “Amnesty International categorically stands by the findings of the Pegasus Project, and the data is irrefutably linked to potential targets of (the Israeli) NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware. The false rumours being pushed on social media are intended to distract from the widespread unlawful targeting of journalists and others that the Pegasus Project has revealed”.

Surprisingly on whether the government had purchased the Israeli spyware Pegasus, the BJP leader said such things were “classified documents” and they couldn’t be revealed. “We have to deal with terrorists and Leftists. Will I tell you which software I’m using? This is a classified document,”

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) brings out an annual Democracy Index. The report for 2020, published earlier this year, pushes India two places down, from the 51st to the 53rd. It takes no more than one’s horse sense to guess that the idea of democracy in India is under siege.

Significantly. a petition filed by Manohar Lal Sharma seeks to know whether the Constitution allows a Prime Minister and his ministers to snoop on Indian citizens for their “vested political interest”. The PIL seeks a court-monitored special investigation team probe into alleged government snooping on Indian citizens through the Israeli spyware Pegasus, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the CBI named as respondents. The petition also mentions; “The Pegasus scandal is a matter of grave concern and a serious attack upon Indian democracy, judiciary and (the) country’s security. The widespread and unaccountable use of surveillance is morally disfiguring.” (IPA Service)

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