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New Delhi: In a scathing criticism of the Narendra Modi government over the Pegasus row, the Indian National Congress said that the Bharatiya Janata Party has “hijacked” democracy and committed an “act of treason”.
The Congress claimed that not only did the BJP “dupe” parliament, but also misled the Supreme Court and misused public money.
In a press conference held on Saturday, the party said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself is not only involved, but leading this spying racket.
In a tweet on Saturday, Congress’s Rahul Gandhi said that the Modi government has committed treason.
The New York Times reported on Friday the broad details of a financial transaction by the Indian government to purchase the spyware in 2017.
The year-long investigation found that the Indian government bought the Israeli spyware Pegasus as part of a $2-billion package for weapons, including a missile system. The Israeli side had described the deal at the time as the single largest contract in Israel’s defence export history.
The NYT report has confirmed what the Indian National Congress has long been asserting, a party spokesperson said.
Randeep Singh Surjewala, media incharge and party general secretary, said that the Modi government is the “deployer and executor of the illegal and unconstitutional snooping and spying racket”.
He said that it is now clear that the Modi government purchased this spyware in 2017 from Israel during the prime minister’s visit.
The budget of the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) to NSA went up from Rs 33 crore to Rs 333 crore the same year, the party claimed.
Pegasus breaches WhatsApp, cellphones, camera and microphones with an intent to listen to or watch the individual’s daily activities, Surjewala said.
He added that it can also plant fake material into an individual’s mobile phone to falsely incriminate them in cases.
The party further said that a range of individuals were targeted by the spyware including Supreme Court judges, people in the Election Commission of India, a CBI director, advocates, journalists and politicians across parties, including ministers of the ruling party.
IT minister Ashwini Vaishnav’s attack on the media reports of Pegasus, calling them “baseless” and “highly sensational”, was an attempt to dupe parliament, the Congress said.
It further said that the home minister also denied purchase of Pegasus software in response to an RTI in 2019..
The defence minister and defence ministry are also on record misleading the parliament and the people by denying purchase of Pegasus spyware from NSO Group, the Congress continued.
Further, the Congress said that the Modi government misled the Supreme Court of India during its questioning over the purchase and use of Pegasus.
In a ‘limited affidavit’ in August 2021, the government had “unequivocally denied any and all of the allegations made against” the government by the various petitioners who had moved the court following news reports of the use of Pegasus. However, the government would not answer the key question of whether it had acquired and used the spyware.
Surjewala said that home minister Amit Shah deployed the usual strategy of false propaganda, claiming the report on Pegasus was “by the disrupters for the obstructers”. Ravi Shankar Prasad too had claimed that the report was “revenge” for how well the government handled the COVID-19 crisis.
Congress’s Mallikarjun Kharge, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, further said that the Congress had to face unwarranted criticism for trying to raise this issue in parliament.
“But we kept raising this issue because we must stop the BJP government from snatching away the freedom of expression and privacy of the people, as ensured in the Indian Constitution,” he said.
Further, he raised the issue of the misuse of public money. “The money that the government collects as taxes is people’s hard-earned money. But it is being spent to spy on our own citizens? Is this his job?” he asked.