The Pegasus row continued to rock Parliament with Union Information Technology Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw on Thursday making a statement in the Rajya Sabha denouncing reports that the spyware could have been used to snoop on Opposition leaders, activists and others, and the Opposition forcing repeated adjournments of the House.
The afternoon session of the Upper House witnessed some charged moments as Opposition MPs led by Trinamool MP Santanu Sen rushed to the well of the House and tore the minister’s statement.
When the House met at 2 pm, after two earlier adjournments, Deputy Chairman Harivansh called for the IT Minister to present his statement before the Rajya Sabha. As Vaishnaw rose to speak, the House erupted in slogans of “Jasoosi band karo, band karo (stop spying)’’.
While the slogan shouting intensified, TMC’s Sen, accompanied by several other members of his party, entered the well of the House and tore up the minister’s statement, even as the Deputy Chairman called for calm.
Amid the din, Vaishnaw read out from the statement — nearly identical to the one he made on July 19, a day after digital news platform The Wire, as part of a global collaborative investigation, reported that 300 Indian numbers were on a list of potential targets of the Pegasus spyware.
“A highly sensational story was published by a web portal on July 18, 2021. Many over-the-top allegations were made around this story. The press report appeared a day before the Monsoon session of Parliament. This can’t be a coincidence,’’ he said.
“In the past, similar claims were made regarding the use of Pegasus on WhatsApp. Those reports had no factual basis and were categorically denied by all parties, including in the Supreme Court. The press reports of 18 July, 2021, are also an attempt to malign the Indian democracy with its well established institutions. We cannot fault those who haven’t read the story in detail, and I request all honourable members to examine the issue on facts and logic,’’ the Minister added.
Though Vasihnaw in his statement pointed out the elaborate processes of law in India which prevents illegal surveillance, he did not specify, just like his predecessor Ravi Shankar Prasad, whether the Government has used Pegasus.
Reacting to today’s proceedings, sources in the government said action would be sought against the Trinamool MPs who tore the minister’s statement. “There will be some action from the government side and privilege motion is one of the options. The government will finalise it by tomorrow,” a source said.
Party leader in the Rajya Sabha Derek O Brien said that the government owed the country a straightforward answer on Pegasus. “The government has to give us a simple, straightforward answer. Did you use Pegasus…yes or no? We want a structured discussion. This is beyond the IT minister. The Prime Minister of the country and the Home Minister of the country have to answer,” he said.
On the possibility of the treasury benches moving a privilege motion, Rajya Sabha MP and spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi Singhvi called the ruckus in the Upper House “a closed matter” and that the government was trying to “divert and digress from real issues”.
“I was also in the House at that time and everything subsided and ended reasonably soon. However, if for ulterior motives, to divert, to digress, to confuse, to take away the focus from major issues like snooping, surveillance and fundamental assaults on freedom of press, the government wants to create this thing by reviving a closed issue, then I think, everybody will see through it, because they don’t want the focus to remain on the real issues,” he told