NYT expose on India acquiring Pegasus spyware from Israel has left Modi govt without a fig leaf

Now that New York Times has exposed that Modi govt acquired Pegasus spyware as part of a defence deal signed with Israel in 2017, it is imperative for PM Modi to officially confirm it, or deny it

Representative image
Representative image

Nitya Chakraborty

The New York Times has finally put the Narendra Modi Government in the dock. India, it says, officially bought Israeli spyware Pegasus as part of the composite defence deal signed with Israel during the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the country in July 2017.

For the last six months, since reports about the surveillance of Indians including politicians, journalists and human rights workers using this spyware appeared in the media, the Centre has consistently denied the involvement of its agencies. Civil society activists including journalists had to finally seek the intervention of the Supreme Court to probe the matter which affects the rights and privacy of individuals. The apex court finally agreed to set up an expert committee in its order of October 27 last year.

The observations made by the bench of Supreme Court led by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana prima facie concurred with the petitioners’ allegation that the ruling administration at the Centre was stonewalling any probe into the matter.

The probe panel was asked to submit its report to the Supreme Court after getting statements of the affected persons. This is to happen by March this year and then a hearing will take place.

The NYT report, which is based on one long year of investigations, would presumably be a major document to be considered by the apex court. The report has totally confirmed what the petitioners were alleging that the entire operation of Pegasus was sponsored by the Centre.

In 1972, the so-called Watergate scandal led to huge controversy in the United States, eventually leading to President Nixon’s resignation. That issue too revolved around allegations of spying on the opposition and tampering with official documents. Two leading journalists of the US newspapers had pursued the scandal and finally there was no escape route for Nixon.

If the probe panel after going into all documents connected to the engagement of Pegasus software can come to the conclusion that there was a deliberate attempt by top government people to carry out espionage on citizens of the country for reasons that had nothing to do with national security, the Supreme Court may take appropriate action.

The entire focus is on the Prime Minister, the PMO and the National Security Adviser. The Supreme Court observations meant that the judges had no belief in what the government’s counsel said during the hearing, especially when he declined to submit a detailed affidavit under the pretext of national security.

The NYT report now shows how the government continuously lied to the media and the country’s people.

In July last year, at the peak of the Pegasus controversy in Parliament when most of the days, PM Modi was not present in the house, the Union IT Minister contended that media report on Pegasus surveillance on Indians at the instance of a government agency was a sensational attempt to malign Indian democracy and its well established institutions.

He then made the point that the Israeli company NSO had rubbished the reports appearing in Indian press.

But the fact is that NSO officials, even at that time, had said that their services are utilised at government levels only.

In 1989, the BJP had carried out a ceaseless slander campaign against the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi before the Lok Sabha elections at the end of the year on allegations related to purchase of Bofors guns. But such allegations pale before the Pegasus scandal, which implies that the government trampled upon fundamental provisions of the Constitution relating to personal freedom and fundamental rights.

In the name of national security, the Modi government had arrested a number of rights activists who continue to be in jail for the last several months and years. The UAPA is being slapped on anyone who challenges the present government. Even well-founded criticism of the government is being taken as criticism of the nation.

In this milieu, one can only hope that the Supreme Court issues strong strictures against the Modi government’s continuing stance on privacy issues by citing national security.

The CJI observed on October 27: “The State cannot get free pass every time by raising national security concerns. No omnibus prohibition can be called against judicial review. Centre should have justified its stand here and not render the court a mute spectator.”

In its order at that time, the SC underlined the importance of privacy and technology, saying that while technology can be used to improve the lives of people, it can also be used to invade privacy. It said certain limitations exist when it comes to privacy, but the restrictions have to pass constitutional muster.

The Budget session of Parliament is beginning on January 31. It will end in the first week of April. The opposition parties led by the Congress, Left and others must focus decisively on the Pegasus issue and expose how the bid for curtailing individual privacy of Indian citizens has been made a part of a US$ 2 billion defence deal with Israel at the whims of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He has to be made answerable in the House this time.

If the Modi government has the guts, let it officially deny that there was no such Pegasus inclusion in the defence deal. The country has the right to know it from Narendra Modi.

(IPA Service)

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