The Trinamool Congress on Tuesday said it would not let Parliament function till the government comes clean on the Pegasus snooping issue. According to media reports published so far, the phone numbers of former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, TMC general secretary Abhishek Banerjee and election strategist Prashant Kishor figure on the list of numbers allegedly under surveillance by the spyware Pegasus.
“This (Pegasus spyware) is a serious issue and the TMC will not compromise on it. We will not let either House run till this government comes clean on the charges of snooping and surveillance. The government has spent millions to hack into phones at a time when the country is dealing with a pandemic,” TMC’s Rajya Sabha MP Derek O’Brien said. The party held protests in both Houses of Parliament on the issue earlier in the day.
IT and Communications Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw had dismissed media reports on the use of Pegasus software to snoop on Indians, saying the allegations levelled just ahead of the monsoon session were aimed at maligning Indian democracy.
However, the TMC alleged that this was a false statement.
TMC Lok Sabha MP Mahua Moitra said, “We are saying on record that the IT Minister lied on the floor of the House. We just want the PM, HM and the IT Minister to answer if India is a client of NSO (Israeli firm that makes the Pegasus spyware) or not? We have a list of questions for the government and we will not allow Parliament to run unless these questions are answered.”
The government needs to answer if any of its departments purchased Pegasus, the TMC said. It also needs to answer whether it is still being deployed for snooping at the government’s behest.
Earlier in the day, at a meeting of like-minded opposition parties, the latest revelations made by the international media consortium were discussed. So far, it has been revealed that over 300 verified mobile phone numbers, including of two ministers, over 40 journalists, three opposition leaders and one sitting judge besides scores of businesspersons and activists in India could have been targeted for hacking through the spyware.
“We are not satisfied with the explanation given by the IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw in Lok Sabha on Monday. Till the government comes up with a satisfactory reply we shall continue to stall the proceedings in both houses of Parliament,” an opposition leader said. The only exceptions will be made during a debate on COVID, farm laws and fuel hike, the leader added.
There are however differences within the opposition on how the issue should be probed.
The TMC was of the view that a Joint Parliamentary Committee is not equipped to carry out a probe of such international dimensions. “Our leader Mamata Banerjee has never favoured a JPC probe into any issue. It usually is far too long drawn to have any impact,” Mr O’ Brien said.
The Left parties have demanded a JPC probe on the issue.