Modi inserted Pegasus in phones; hit democracy's soul: Rahul Gandhi
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday fired a fresh salvo at the Narendra Modi government over the Pegasus scandal. Gandhi is among the hundreds of politicians, journalists, activists, etc., who were identified as potential surveillance targets by Israeli company NSO Group's Pegasus spyware. Gandhi participated in a meeting of representatives of 14 Opposition parties, who called for a discussion on Pegasus in the Parliament.
Wednesday's meeting was chaired by Congress MP and Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge. Representatives of Shiv Sena, CPI, CPI(M), RJD, AAP, DMK, NCP, Samajwadi Party, etc., were present. Smaller outfits—the Muslim League, the Revolutionary Socialist Party, Kerala Congress, and the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi—also participated. The meeting came a day after Gandhi chaired a meeting of 10 Opposition leaders on Tuesday.
After Wednesday's meeting, Gandhi said the government is trying to silence the Opposition's demands for a discussion in Parliament. "I want to ask the people: there is a weapon Narendra Modi has planted in your phones...used against Opposition leaders, journalists, activists...should there not be a discussion in Parliament?" Gandhi said Modi used Pegasus to "hit the soul of India's democracy."
"We are only asking if the Pegasus software was bought and if it was used against certain persons in India," Gandhi said, "Our voice is being curtailed in Parliament." "If we (the Opposition) agree there will be no discussion on Pegasus...the issue will get buried...till the time Pegasus is not discussed in Parliament, we are going nowhere," he added.
Parliamentary proceedings have been disrupted by the Opposition since the Monsoon Session started on July 19. The Opposition blames the Centre for the current impasse in Parliament as the Centre is not conceding to the Opposition's demand for a discussion on the Pegasus issue. On Tuesday, Opposition parties asked the government to call an all-party meeting to resolve the ongoing stalemate in Parliament.
On the other hand, on Tuesday, Modi blamed Congress and other Opposition parties for not allowing the ongoing Parliament's Session to function. He said the Opposition is deliberately trying to stall attempts at resolving the impasse that halted all functions of the Parliament. Notably, the Lok Sabha was adjourned nine times on Tuesday amid protests and sloganeering by Opposition parties over several key issues.
Gandhi responded on Wednesday saying, "They say we're disturbing Parliament (but) we want to fulfill our responsibilities and this is against the democratic process." Shiv Sena MP and spokesperson Sanjay Raut said the Opposition is "united in our stand to protect issues of national security, democracy, and farmers' welfare." Raut said the statement read out by IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw doesn't constitute a discussion.
The Trinamool Congress was not present during Wednesday's meeting. TMC MP Derek O'Brien, however, clarified that the Opposition is "100% united," and that the Congress had been informed about his party's absence. TMC supremo and West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee—whose nephew Trinamool MP Abhishek Banerjee is among the potential surveillance targets—met Modi in Delhi on Tuesday and pitched for a Supreme Court-led inquiry.
The Banerjee-led TMC government in West Bengal on Monday ordered the first judicial inquiry into the Pegasus allegations. Thus far, this is the only judicial probe in India. She also said on Tuesday that Modi should call for an all-party meeting on the Pegasus scandal.
Separately, Gandhi and other Opposition leaders have jointly submitted an adjournment motion in Lok Sabha seeking a discussion on the Pegasus issue. The discussion is to be held in the "presence of the Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) and/or (Union) Home Minister (Amit Shah)," the leaders demand. The adjournment motion was submitted after the Opposition meeting held earlier in the day.
Further, seven Opposition parties wrote a letter to President Ram Nath Kovind on Tuesday seeking his intervention to direct the Centre to discuss the Pegasus issue and farmers' protests in Parliament. The letter was signed by Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party, the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party, the Akali Dal, the National Conference, the CPI, the CPI(M), as well as Sharad Pawar's NCP.