By Abdul Bari Masoud
New Delhi: At a time when assembly elections in five states including Uttar Pradesh are underway, the New York Times’s new expose on Pegasus spyware has provided fresh ammo to the opposition to attack Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government. The NYT investigative report has finally put the Modi government in the dock. India which reveals that India purchased Israeli spyware Pegasus as part of a composite defence contract agreed with Israel in July 2017 during Modi’s visit to the country. Main opposition Congress said the fresh Pegasus revelations proved that the Modi government “hijacked democracy, deceived the parliament and duped the Supreme Court and committed treason”.
The NYT details how Prime Minister Modi began to tighten relations with the Israeli government in July 2017 at the altar of its long-standing commitment to the Palestinian cause.
“In July 2017, Narendra Modi, who won office on a platform of Hindu nationalism, became the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel. For decades, India had maintained a policy of what it called ‘commitment to the Palestinian cause,’ and relations with Israel were frosty,” the report said.
The Modi visit, however, was notably cordial, complete with a carefully staged moment of him and Prime Minister Netanyahu walking together barefoot on a local beach. They had reason for the warm feelings. Their countries had agreed on the sale of a package of sophisticated weapons and intelligence gear worth roughly $2 billion — with Pegasus and a missile system as the centrepieces,” the report said.
For the last six months, reports were doing rounds in the media concerning the surveillance of Indians, including politicians, journalists, and human rights activists, using this malware. However, the Modi government has stoutly denied its agencies’ involvement. Civil society groups, including journalists, were forced to approach the Supreme Court to investigate the matter which impacts individual rights and privacy. In an order dated October 27 of last year, the Supreme Court agreed to form an expert committee.
The NYT report, which is based on one long year of investigations, has left the Modi govt without a fig leaf on this issue.
Congress said the shocking and new expose in an international publication has now established what the party always maintained – and that was that- “The Modi Government is the deployer and executor of the illegal and unconstitutional snooping and spying racket through Israeli surveillance spyware Pegasus & the Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi is himself involved!” Briefing the media, Mallikarjun Kharge, LoP, Rajya Sabha and Randeep Singh Surjewala, General Secretary & In-charge, Communication Deptt, said “This is a brazen ‘hijack of democracy’& ‘an act of treason’.
They underlined that It is now clear that the Government, led by the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, himself: –
“(1) Purchased the illegal and unconstitutional Pegasus Spyware,
(2) Duped the Parliament,
(3) Misled the Supreme Court,
(4) Used public money, Used public treasury, to illegally purchase and spy upon its own people,
(5) Hijacked the Democracy in the runup to the 2019 Parliament elections,
(6) Committed an act of ‘Treason’.” That’s the truth.
Other political leaders also reacted to the expose and questioned the Modi government’s alleged purchase of Pegasus software from Israel’s NSO Group.
In a tweet, Rahul Gandhi said “Modi government bought Pegasus to spy on our primary democratic institutions, politicians and public. Govt functionaries, opposition leaders, armed forces, judiciary all were targeted by these phone tapings.”
Shiv Sena leader Priyanka Chaturvedi also lashed out at the ruling BJP. In a tweet, she said the Pegasus spyware was bought “not for defence purposes but to snoop on opposition and journalists.”
Even ruling BJP MP Subramanian Swamy questioned his party’s and government’s silence regarding the NYT report.
“The Modi government must rebut New York Times revelations today that It did indeed subscribe by payment from tax payers money of ₹ 300 crores to spyware Pegasus sold by Israeli NSO company,” he tweeted.
Swamy also alluded to the Watergate Scandal, which forced US President Richard Nixon to resign in 1974 as a result of the scandal. The so-called Watergate crisis in 1972 sparked widespread outrage in the United States, finally leading to President Richard Nixon’s resignation. There were also suspicions of eavesdropping on the opposition and tampering with official documents in that case. Nixon had been hounded by two top US newspaper journalists, and there was no way for him to get out of it.
The NYT story now proves how the government misled the media and the people of the country on a regular basis.